Undertaking an adventure of this magnitude is incredibly exciting but overwhelming and adding a four-legged friend definitely adds a layer of logistics and complication. Feeling somewhat reassured that others have successfully completed the journey and knowing there are resources available does help ease the concerns of figuring out what to do. That said, finding what documentation you need is only the first of many complicated steps.
We first mentioned our trip to our vet on a visit early this summer to get some feedback and ensure a proper vaccination schedule prior to and in preparation of our departure. The thing about South and Central America is that there are no formal quarantines and as expected we vaccinate both ourselves and our animals more than most other countries. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that we needed to give but we did need to work with the USDA office for the proper health certificate.
Well, this was it, all packed and ready to go. After months of anticipation, planning and general wonder about how this incredible adventure will unfold we are finally ready to depart. Since we couldn’t break a bottle of champagne over the nose of the airplane we opted for the next best thing and headed to the United Club to cheers the voyage.
We were notified that a landing gear light needed to replaced and we were delayed a short time. Watching the minutes tick by all we could do was think about Lucia and hope that she was fairing okay, poor girl. After a long two hour wait we finally boarded and settled into our seats; we were obviously comfortable because before we knew it we were on arrival.
Anxious to start the customs process and rescue Lucia from her kennel we read and re-read the collection instructions and quickly deplaned. We arranged a taxi to pick us up and the contact was there with our name-card as expected; we tried to tell her we needed to pick up the dog and showed her the paperwork, she nodded her head, said something and gestured us to follow – so we did. We got to the taxi and our driver asked where the dog was, she was a little dumbfounded. Obviously she hadn’t understood a word we said, still working on rolling those R’s. We headed back in to the information counter and it was like no one understood the instructions that were provided, granted they were in english but they didn’t even seem know of the building locations referenced. We walked to a random United door, knocked and knocked but got no response, so back to the information desk and with new directions headed back to the taxi.
We needed to go to the Cargo area in an entirely different part of the airport grounds. No taxis were allowed through the secured area and there was no parking so Chad stayed with our backpacks in the taxi and off I went with the paperwork and directions I didn’t understand. All I really understood was walk down the street, turn left at the next security gate and find the building on the left. I wandered into the first building and up to the second floor like I thought I was supposed to; like a weird dream some random guy, in broken english said, you must be here for the dog and pointed me to another building and just like that was gone again. I finally found the United Cargo office and felt like I was on the right track, phew. I was concerned I had to leave all the original paperwork with United Cargo in Houston and just hoped I’d get it all back as expected. After about 20 minutes of who knows what and seemed like should’ve taken less than 5, the woman handed me a stack of paperwork, asked for payment and pointed me to the next office. Finished with United and now off to find the SENASA office for review of the health certificate and associated paperwork. It took another bit of wandering in and out of the wrong place to find the right office but I finally found it and I was beginning to notice the pace at which people move. With a YouTube video playing on the office computer and the first showing of mate sharing, I expected this review to go a little faster than it was moving. In a bit of conversation we were having I mentioned she was like my baby and he laughed; he said he would go check on her and would tell me how she was. About 30 minutes later he came back and said she was fine, sleeping.
Cha-ching…It was time to pay another fee, then I needed to go get an ID badge to be allowed into yet another location. The guy was very nice and escorted me to the security location so I knew exactly where to go for the ID then said to come back to his office. At that point Chad and the taxi driver had found a place to park and were looking for me concerned that it was taking so long. I thought we were making progress and I was convinced that it wouldn’t be too much longer; I mean I was on step 4 of 8 on the instructions list. I headed back to the SENASA office and the nice gentleman asked if I wanted to see Lucia so we walked to the holding area. Along the way he informed me that the next office I needed to go to closes for lunch at 1pm, well it was 1:05pm – I wanted to scream, that meant I had to wait for an hour to keep the process going. As we approached the warehouse I could hear her and knew she wasn’t sleeping, uh oh. Poor girl was not happy and she was letting everyone around know it. I walked in and she looked so sad and scared, she was in her kennel locked in a wire cage so I could barely get my fingers in for a quick lick. Not sure if seeing her made it worse since it certainly had for me, my calm was waning and my patience tested. I headed to the customs office where there was already a line, I had to take a number and wait the next 45 minutes until lunch was over. Lunch, which consisted of the young lady chatting with a friend that came to see her, sharing mate, having a smoke and surfing the web while we all sat there and watched. At this point I was counting the hours, not only the hours since I’d last seen Chad but the long hours since we’d dropped Lucia and locked her in the kennel.
It felt like forever for 2pm to come and for the young lady to call the first person in line to the counter. Anxiously, I waited for her to call my number since I wasn’t exactly sure what the process was there. She entered some information in the computer and told me to sit back down and wait some more, ugh. 18 hours and counting, my patience were really being tested. I was then told to go into another room where some man took the paperwork and said to go back out to where I was and wait some more. This was becoming very painful. Almost 2 hours later (just in that office) I finally paid yet another fee and was told I could now, finally, go collect the dog. Informing people that I was trying to collect a living dog didn’t seem to increase the sense of urgency for anyone. I headed back to the warehouse with all the paperwork signed, sealed, paid for and ready to rescue Lucia.
This is where the process went from painful to full on excruciating; hearing Lucia cry, receiving the annoyed looks from everyone in the warehouse that had now been listening to her all day and being told that there was still another step I had to complete. The instructions provided by United were step by step but not entirely thorough or informative. I was unable to understand any of the directions and this step was not even mentioned on the procedure list so I was at a bit of a loss. I walked back to the security officer and thankfully he spoke a little bit of english and I asked where I was supposed to go to get the approval signature to leave the premises and he had no idea. He knew exactly who I was since Chad and the taxi driver were concerned and pacing around the grounds wondering where the heck I was. I headed back to the SENASA office and the guy was surprised to see me, said that I had everything I needed and should just be able to get her. I was very confused so went back to the warehouse office to get additional clarification, to which I received none but he did offer to have someone take me. So I waited until that someone was ready. He walked me to the security gate and tried to tell me where to go but I understood nothing. So I wandered around the building, in and out of security; I asked the next security guide where this office was that I needed to go and he pointed me around the corner and in the second door. This was still the wrong place and yet again I was pointed in another direction. Finally finding the right place I positioned myself in front of the window and said I needed a final signature. It took two people moving at a snails pace to sign the piece of paper and finalize the paperwork.
I went running back to the warehouse and came in like I’d run a race with the needed signature, handed it to the man to stamp and sign. He then told me to turn around to the window behind me and give someone else the paperwork to review, this was to create the document to leave the premises. He needed a license plate number of the car we were driving, I said we had a taxi and I didn’t have it. Well, he needed a license plate number and I needed to go get it. I was not allowed to take Lucia out so I had to leave her again on another wild goose chase. At this point, it had been a number of hours since I’d seen Chad and now way of getting in touch with him as I couldn’t find a wifi signal anywhere. Isn’t this why we brought 2-way radios!?!? In such a rush and having no idea what a process this would be neither of us thought about them when I jumped out of the taxi.
Now wandering the grounds, wondering where Chad could be and desperate to get Lucia the heck outta there I was trying to think through what the options were. Finally, I caught sight of him at another security gate. The taxi driver didn’t know the license plate number and had to walk all the way back to the taxi that was parked in some random lot, which took another half hour. Finally, with the license plate number in hand I ran back to the warehouse to complete the exit forms. Still not allowed to take Lucia out I just tried to talk to her as we waited for the taxi to pull up to the warehouse. The car had to be cleared to come into the secured area where they wouldn’t open the cage she was in until he was positioned to open the door and place the kennel directly in the back of the taxi. We were not allowed to take her out until we were off airport grounds.
After five (5) excruciating hours dealing with one office after another, and all of us dying over the screeching howl and crying from the back, but finally reunited, we drove down the highway until there was a spot we could pull off.
Phew, we finally made it!