Yesterday I walked in on a beautiful and familiar scene. On the second-hand couch in our rented Kuala Lumpur town house, my two-year old labradoodle, Teddy, rested comfortably enjoying the “breeze” of the AC and the kaa kaa of the tropical birds. It was hard to believe that a few months before, I had lost sleep over whether or not relocate him from our home in the US to Malaysia. Images of him being too hot, too lonely and too sick had filled my head. But here he was now, as happy as he’d ever been.
Rewind a few months…
Two months before our departure date there was one pending decision: what to do with Teddy. It should have been quite simple. Animals are relocated every day, right? If Teddy had been less than 6–8 kilos he would have fit comfortably (and legally) as a “carry-on” in the cabin. He would have slept quietly at my feet. But he was 35 lb and not a service dog, so his place on the plane was below us, in the cargo section. Suddenly high stress, dehydration and danger seemed like his fate.
Maybe I was being too dramatic. I queried over 20 people, including our vet, our dog trainer, my hairdresser, friends, family and the dog owners I met randomly at the park. I wanted his joining us to be the right thing. I was listening for assurance and hoping for consensus. But instead my advisors were split between those who proclaimed it would be dog abuse if we flew him, and those who suggested it would be dog abuse if we left him without us, his family. I felt like I couldn’t win.
But in the end, he was family. He was my other child. And I couldn’t leave him alone. And thus began Teddy’s journey.
Myth: If a dog is in the cargo section of the cabin, he will be with all the luggage.
Fact: The animal section of the cargo is only for animals. It has pressurized air and climate control.
First decision: How will my dog get there?
Tip 1: Every country has it’s own rules and entry requirements about bringing dogs. Pay attention.
Luckily for us Malaysia only had two requirements for dogs and Teddy passed them both:
- Is your dog more than 3 months and have a microchip? Yes.
- Is your dog on the list of dogs you can bring in the country? Yes
That under our belt, there were two ways to bring Teddy, a mid size dog, on an international flight: fly him with us on a pet friendly airline in the cargo section, or hire a pet relocation company to fly him independently.
We opted for using a relocation company, Petrelocation.com. Being a first time expat dog owner, I wanted someone to hand hold me through the process. Plus I wanted to make sure Teddy got extra TLC between the flights. We were assured that using a relocation company meant that Teddy would spend his layover in the comfort of a pet airport hotel, where a vet would make sure he was ok and dog-friendly workers would walk him and clean his crate. Lastly, and most importantly, we had to leave before Teddy, so we really had little choice since he was unaccompanied. The downside was that the relocation companies are very expensive, 3000-4000 US dollars.
Myth: Dogs die all the time on international flights.
Fact: The pet relocation company we worked with informed us that they had lost only a few dogs, and those dogs had a preexisting heart condition.
Advance preparation before your dog’s flight
Tip 2: There are many steps, so start early and make sure you are doing every step correctly.
I was under the impression that now that we’d picked a relocation company they would take care of everything. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The company did provide the list of to-dos and when to do them. We hadn’t left much time (two months) before we had to fly him, so it was a good thing we didn’t encounter any real problems.
The list could have been used even if we were flying Teddy without their help. We had to:
- Make sure Teddy’s vaccinations were up to date. Luckily he was set or he wouldn’t have been able to fly within the short time frame.
- Get a Carrier: Getting the proper size, hard plastic carrier, ventilated on 4 sides , and bolted together, not snapped together is important or they’ll stop you at the airport and won’t let the animal on the airplane.
- Set up appointment for a health certificate. It is critical that your dog is healthy because the most dogs that don’t make it seem to be dogs that had health problems the owners didn’t know about. I had them do extra tests on his heart to be confident. He needed to be at the vet six days before flight, even though they tell you seven days!!! This was our biggest “gotcha” because everything said seven days, but our relocation specialist was concerned if the plane was delayed, then the health certificate would be void.
- Set up a room in quarantine. The only surprise was that you have to ask for air conditioning or your dog will be put in the heat with only a fan. There are only 3 rooms so you need to request early enough.
- Make sure you have an agent that will handle the paperwork on the Malaysian side, retrieve your dog at the airport and feed them while in quarantine. We were told that the quarantine facility would not feed your dog – only agents will. We used PetsPetTaxi but there are others like Mamadog.
Myth: To meet the requirement of your dog holding a health certificate seven days before their flight, your dog should have its vet appointment seven days before the flight.
Fact: Due to the frequency of flight delays and cancellations, it is advised and in some case required to have your vet appointment six days before your flight.
Day of the flight
Tip 3: Walk your dog before he gets on the plane so he’s tired, and no water after midnight the night before!
Getting Teddy’s carrier ready for the flight was probably one of the most important parts of the preparation. The day before, my friend (we were already in Kuala Lumpur) taped two bags of dried food on his crate, and hooked two water dishes inside. One of the dishes had been frozen the day before. We put an old crate mat that smelled like home inside for comfort. Lastly we put one sticker with his name and photo and another sticker or two that say LIVE ANIMAL.
Know that just like any air travel, delays and missteps happen. But by doing this prep, you are making sure that your dog will not get lost in the confusion.
Myth: Sedatives will make your dog more comfortable on the day of flight.
Fact: Sedatives can put your dog at risk.
Quarantine in KL
Tip 4: Take the time to get air-conditioned room and a nice agent. That will make your dog’s experience for the next 7 days more pleasant.
Unless you are flying in from United Kingdom, Ireland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei or Singapore, your dog has to spend at least seven days in quarantine.
When we got word that Teddy had landed and was in his temporary home, I felt a sense of relief but also frustration that he was close but so far. I needed to see him and make sure he was ok. I wanted to let him know that he hadn’t been abandoned by us. I felt incredible guilt that I was putting him through such trauma.
I had heard mixed messages about whether it would be too confusing for him to see us, but not go home with us. But again, he was my “other child”. So we took an Uber to the quarantine facility near the airport.
It was such a relief to see he was ok! He was THRILLED to see us! The place was fine. It was stark, yes, but comfortable for him. Now we only had to wait six long days…
Getting around the quarantine facility can be a bit confusing at first. Here is what we learned:
- Hours are between 8am – 4pm.
- When you get to the guardhouse, sign in with your passport.
- Then drive to the parking lot on the right. From there you will find a building on your right. Walk through a garden to the building. Take off your shoes. And then you must sign in again.
- A guard will take you to your dog. There is a walk up a hill so better to bring walking shoes or sandals.
- You can stay as long as you like until closing. We’d walk Teddy, play with him and just sit with him.
Finally we were reunited with Teddy. It turns out that most pet owners that bring pets abroad feel the same weight and fear that I did. Everyone has a story. My neighbor’s dog was left on the runway when he escaped from his crate. Another friend’s dog was left while the agents went to the mosque to pray. But in the end, all dogs arrived safe and sound. And having your dog with you on your journey is well worth it!