Pet transport while in the Foreign Service is a daunting task. This semifictional account does not stray far from its absurdly exasperating reality.


It is possible—within the tangled threads of the airline tapestry—to transport a dog as checked baggage when on government orders. As a customer service professional, I whistled past the graveyards on Facebook with their horror stories and strode confidently into the airline abyss, guidelines printed and in hand. I would be different.

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It’s been a month of seeking confirmation, and my confidence is wavering. From one airline representative to the next, the advice is never the same. If it isn’t a rule not listed on the list of rules, it’s a glitch with the tickets—a ticket number connected to an empty reservation, making confirmation impossible. A creaking in someone’s arthritic knuckles suggesting that I couldn’t do what I was doing.

When a rep found out my dog’s astrological sign (Scorpio), I had to agree to do a tarot reading on a day with only three visible clouds in the sky. Visible to whom?

When I said she was a street dog, a Westminster judge materialized at my door to shake his monocle at me and demand I be more precise in identifying her. Pug-nose dogs are not allowed on planes, you see.

A friendly rep got my dog confirmed, only to reroute me to the cargo line where I was called an idiot and routed back to customer service, where I was told that nothing could be done, and why wouldn’t you give up on that big rock, Sisyphus?

One surly rep told me to pay out of pocket to have a private company ship the dog if I was getting tired of calling (which I was). I researched this suggestion. I emailed for quotes, and replies came back at the speed of mousetraps. One promises to put my dog in a TARDIS and wind back the aging process so that I can train her properly as a puppy. Another oozes judgment and promises. Truly, if I loved my dog, I’d pay half a car to transport her around the world, right? If I really loved her. I balk.

I … like my dog. I delete the shipping quotes, but they keep coming in all the same.

At two months, I am a step ahead of every question. I’m on government orders. I split the flight. The solstice isn’t for two months. I took the oath of binding and sacrificed my tokens on an altar made of discarded model airplanes, as instructed on the airline website’s sister service, Invisible Caveats.

Gamma said LMN required that I check the dog out and then in again, which I couldn’t do with my short layover. I snagged tickets on an earlier flight and gave myself six hours to check the dog out and in again. Perfect—until I was told there was a three-hour layover limit on checked animals in general. Then LMN said that Gamma was mistaken and that I wouldn’t have to check the dog out at all. Scrambling, I paid to switch my tickets back. Switching reset all my reservations. Gamma and LMN couldn’t decide who was actually in control of the flight until the two pilots dueled the morning of the flight, as was airline custom.

Then there was the double layover rule, where a pet couldn’t have two connections in a single trip, posted on nary a website (I assume the parchment was unrolled and Terry Gilliam hovered gleefully over the fine print to locate this new pitfall). To overcome it, I overnighted in our connection city to break up the connections. I told myself it would be nothing to move half a dozen suitcases and a large dog crate. My reward would be a complimentary make-my-own-dang-waffle.

All the while, the nefarious private carrier emails kept trickling in. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you stressed? Aren’t you getting just a little bit desperate? I delete the emails. Desperate, yes. That desperate? Well …

I now fight laughter when the rep asks if the combined weight of the dog and crate is less than a wet swan in summer.

The government makes it clear this mess is mine to deal with. In the beginning, I found their fear to be amusing. We will fight wars. We will build air-conditioned spaces in the desert. We will get potable water in nonpotable places. We will untangle your visa application. But a dog? No!

Now I begin to see their wisdom. Uncle Sam is cradled in Liberty’s arms, softly chanting to himself: “Codeshare splits … no double layovers … hold please … hold please … hold please …” Cue horrible guitar music.

For three months, I’ve been working on putting my dog on an airplane. Three months in, and they’re wearing me down one call at a time. I now fight laughter when the rep asks if the combined weight of the dog and crate is less than a wet swan in summer. It’s not a healthy laugh either—it’s a cackling sound. I get rebuked for the sound on my 15th call when Gamma flip-flops again. They’re doing the best they can, and I really should try to be patient. I do not throw my phone off the balcony that day.

Susanna, a cheerful representative who reminds me of myself before I hated everything, gets my dog confirmed for every step of the trip. During that phone call, I get an email from a do.not.reply address. It’s got a GIF of Wile E. Coyote getting crushed by an Acme safe. In different fonts, like a ransom note, it says my dog isn’t going anywhere, ever. Signed: GAMMA.

Did Susanna know about this serial killer email? Is Susanna in on it? Of course she is … she knew she wasn’t helping me from the beginning! It was a ruse. That chipper voice, that ease of completing simple tasks! I want to call her back immediately and demand to know why she delights in my pain.

Instead, I get Heath.

“Hold please.”

Four months in, I am weathered wood and indestructible, yet also just about ready to shatter into a thousand glass pieces if someone asks me the wrong question at the wrong moment. There is a small, worried voice within me asking if I want to maybe, possibly, perhaps drink 64 ounces of water or look outside at a tree or listen to some Aesop Rock. I do not. I just stare at the screen. They will not get me. I will get this dog into the airplanes. I’m going to go on leave and relax. I’m going to relax. I’m. Going. To. Relax.

Janice repeats herself, no matter the question I ask. She doesn’t like that I’m sarcastic. She doesn’t care how much I’ve done. She blesses me at the end of our call, which I take with grace because I’m damn graceful. I’m a professional. And Janice says it’s done—each leg confirmed and clean in the computer’s system.

I lean back on the couch, unsure. I don’t feel like it’s true. I feel like a dog that’s caught its own tail. I tell my husband that it’s settled. He’s incredulous as well, having listened to me hum “hold please” guitar music and twitch in my sleep.

We sit in silence and hope.

The rules are not quite knowable, not even by those who wrote them.

I now must admit to my mistake. I am not perfect. I am tired. It’s been weeks into months. I did not call the night before to confirm. I just … couldn’t. My brain stopped, full of fuzz. I played video games and drank a tequila and thought these words aloud: “Things are settled. We’ll be fine …”

“Ma’am, I’m not seeing a dog on your reservation. Did you call us ahead of time?” The agent, Marie, is unimpressed as I fail to respond, stammering, stunned. I step out of the line to make another call. After all this, it comes down to me on hold with the airline and the agent on the phone with another part of the airport.

Marie, who sees that I’m pushing rudeness into an ulcer I’ll deal with later, does something that I’ll appreciate when calm. She works hard. She makes more calls, and she translates my problems into lingo. The three hours prep I gave myself disappear. Soon I won’t be able to make my flight at a flat sprint.

“It’ll be 400 euros for the dog.” Movement? Money? I have some money! I throw down my card.

“Also I see that you have extra bags. You only get one each.” I throw down the other card and my carry-on bag. A tag prints out. Marie trots to the crate and slips the tag through the crate door—Brussels to Washington, D.C.

“This needs to go to DH—” Before she’s finished, my husband has already taken the relay baton. He is off at a record-breaking sprint, luggage dolly leaving skid marks on the gray floors. I love him.

Then we run. I know the airport. I ask people for kindness, and people oblige. I move to the fronts of lines. I jump escalator stairs. I cut through duty-free like a pickpocket. I hear people exclaim as I dodge and weave. My legs complain (I had given them no warning). Someone cheers us on. Someone scolds.

Neither husband nor I are allowed to board. We’re sweating from the sudden exertion. Ushered to one side, we look longingly at our plane. The long last minutes of the boarding time float by. I’m lightheaded. The gate agents here are typing our data into several different computers, pointing at things.

“Excuse me. You have a dog? How much does it weigh?”

In Schiphol, I watch my dog getting loaded onto the flight to the States. She’s turning around in her crate, which is on an elevator. She must be miserable, but the luggage handler is talking to her. Even from a distance I can see him gesturing to her and to himself. He’s talking to the dog, telling her of his woes and the pros and cons of being a luggage handler at a busy airport. It’s actually a little charming. I get it. She has such a sympathetic face. It’s part of the reason that I’m watching from the airport window and feeling only relief.

I don’t think my clothes or computer will meet me in the States, but she will. I don’t imagine she’ll be grateful. In fact, I know she won’t. She’ll ignore me and go find a piece of furniture she can call her own, back to me for the trouble I’ve put her through. Fair enough. Tickets in hand, we board.

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There is more. About how we got rerouted to Los Angeles because Las Vegas was two degrees too hot, and then we drove across the desert ... how there was a long debate at 4 a.m. about the hinges of an Airbus A330 versus a Boeing 717 … how at the very last minute we had to scramble to find a heretofore-unmentioned physical letter of approval from a partner airline … how we missed our flight to Seattle because the agent spent an hour looking for the correct kind of “up” arrow sticker …

I’ll spare you the details because perhaps you know my story; you knew it before I had even finished. Perhaps you are a veteran of these things and chide my dramatics. Perhaps you are wise and saw the calmer paths that I stubbornly chose to ignore. Perhaps I have frightened you. Good.

The rules are not quite knowable, not even by those who wrote them. Buy your tarot decks early, friends. Call early, and then burn your incense. Dig up the new regulations, and make sure your cypher is accurate. Be tenacious and as unrelenting as a glacier, and, for the love of all things holy, call the night before.

Jean Monfort is an office management specialist in the U.S. Foreign Service. Her previous posts include Conakry, Guinea, and the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels. She currently works in the Regional Security Office in Hanoi, where she is joined by her husband, Liam, and one ungrateful dog, Kairi.

This piece has been condensed from a longer tale. All names have been changed because technically the author’s journey isn’t finished.


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