Sky Pug's Trip to Africa

Goodbye snow covered New York City

The Long Journey of getting our dog from USA to a farm in Namibia

Sky's journey to Namibia started about 4 weeks before he ever actually got on a plane.  A flight to Namibia is about 20 hours of traveling just for a person and all you need is a passport and a ticket to get on the plane.  Sky, however, as we would learn needed a stack of paperwork and several tests done weeks before flying.  All that ensued makes human travel look like a walk in the park.

The first steps in getting Sky flight ready was to get in contact with a pet travel service to help coordinate all the paperwork needed.  The paperwork and steps basically included:

  • Find a Vet who can issue a international travel health certificate (basically says Sky is fit to fly).
  • South Africa and Namibia require 5 Blood Tests done to say he is clear of certain parasites.
  • Obtain Namibia animal import permit
  • Obtain South Africa animal import permit (since he has a stop over in Johannesburg)
  • Final Vet visit to issue health certificate within 10 days of travel
  • Obtain USDA stamps on animal export paperwork
  • Finally, fly!

We originally tried to start all the paperwork by ourselves, but it became abundantly clear that we would need some help along the way.  Especially, since Stephanie was in Namibia, Bobby was in New York City and Sky was in Austin with Stephanie’s mom.  The pet service helped out tremendously albeit at quite a premium price, but we decided immediately that the costs were 100% worth it to get Sky to us in Namibia.

3 Days until Sky Flight to Africa

We spent about 4 weeks getting all the vet visits and paperwork ready and finally the day came that we were gonna get Sky to NYC a couple days before his trip to Africa.  Sky was to fly on Friday from Austin to Newark and Bobby got a call on Thursday night that all pet travel was to be suspended the following 2 days due to snow in NYC area.  Without hardly any thought Bobby got a ticket to go to Austin and pickup Sky in person so he could fly Sky in the cabin under the seat (instead of under the airplane). 

48 Hours to go

Friday morning Bobby (that's me) was off with plans to get Sky and return on Saturday afternoon.  Once in Austin I said hello to the family quickly, got some sleep and got up early for an early flight to Newark with Sky.  In 24 hours he’d be on the flight to Jo-berg, South Africa.

24 Hours to go

Waiting at Austin Airport

As soon as I arrived at Austin Airport I learned my flight was cancelled.  Equipment failure or something - no one knew for sure.  I tried to get on the next flight on standby, but after waiting for a couple hours the flight was full.  Meanwhile, snow was beginning to fall in the Northeast.  I got a ticket on the next flight to Newark at 1pm so we waited and waited.  That flight got delayed a couple hours but we got on the plane.  More snow in NYC.  Once on the plane we pushed away from the gate.  But, then we proceeded to park on the tarmac and wait for 30 minutes, then an hour and then we returned to the gate.  Second flight cancelled.

18 Hours to go

Having flown a lot, I hung around the gate and talked with the agents staying calm, courteous and confident as I tried to get on the next flight.  It was at this moment that I realized that we might not make it to New York that day which would delay all the weeks of planning in getting Sky on the flight the next day.  Fortunately, the airline agents were amazing and helped get me on the next flight to Houston which was just about to close the doors at the next gate.  Sky and I rushed over there and I made sure to tell them I had to get my luggage on the flight too since Sky’s huge international kennel was checked baggage and we needed that for him to fly in the next day.  We rushed on the plane and found our seats and to my amazement the gate agent rushed on the plane before we took off to personally tell me my bags made it.  I’ve never had more personal service while flying and we were off to Houston with a good feeling that we might just make it.

12 Hours to go

Waiting at Houston Airport

We arrived in Houston after just a 30 minute flight and had about 3 hours to kill before our final flight to Newark.  Sky had been stuck in his carrier at this point for almost 10 hours so we left the airport and I walked him around outside for a while to get a pee break and some fresh air (as fresh of air as you can get at an airport in Houston).  Once we were back inside the airport we made our way to the gate where we found our flight was delayed another hour or so.  Not good news but as long as we made I didn’t care how.  Our estimated arrival time was now 12 midnight, so instead of our friend Annemarie picking us up and staying in New Jersey for the night I went ahead and booked a rental car to get us from Newark to JFK and a hotel next to JFK to grab a few hours sleep before reporting to the airport at 6:30am.

6 Hours to go

Landing in the snow at Newark

The flight from Houston finally took off sometime around 9 or 10pm and as soon as we took off both Sky and I were dead asleep until we landed in Newark around 12:30am.  As we landed all out the windows we could only see snow.  The runway was covered in snow expect for a narrow stretch that had been cleared for the planes to land.  When the plane turned off the runway we saw a team of 10-15 emergency vehicles scrambling to plow the runway again as the next aircraft approached. 

When we finally got into the airport we headed to the baggage claim.  To my surprise my bags actually made it along with Sky’s crate!  Despite 4 changes in flights in one day our bags actually made it.  I collected our bags and headed straight for the car rental lot.  By the time we actually got a car (that wasn't snowed in) it was nearly 3am.  Sky and I wearily climbed in the car and set off from Newark towards Manhattan and eventually on to a hotel near JFK Airport.

2.5 Hours to go

Around 4am we finally arrived at the hotel near JFK.   At this point there was several inches of snow on the ground and snow was still lightly falling, but the main roads were clear enough for us to make it across NYC.  We arrived at the hotel which was nothing special.  Just an older building next to the highway with a Howard Johnson’s sign on the front and a slightly renovated lobby from a few years ago.  We walked in and asked for our room.  That’s when the lady at the desk told me “Sorry, we’re all full.”  I quickly informed her I had booked a room online the evening before, but the response was the same.  Apparently someone had show up with a similar last name to me and they just assumed it was me.  Now, with both me and Sky just totally exhausted form the days travels I pleaded with the staff and said I just need a place to take a nap for a couple hours.  We already had to be at the airport at 6:30am so I was prepared to sleep in the car if need be, but a bed for a little bit would be nice.

The manager had turned up at this point and I explained the situation to me and he apologized profusely.  He then offered that he could set up a roll away bed in the gym for me if I was OK with that.  He mentioned that it wasn’t exactly legal, but he wouldn’t charge me (obviously) and again apologized.  Decision for me was a no brainer.  I grabbed up Sky and my bag and followed the guys into the gym (which was just a small room with a treadmill and a bowflex).  A bed showed up a few minuted later and some sheets and a pillow.  I thanked the guys and let Sky loose in the room when they left.  Sky, who was just as exhausted as me was so happy to see a bed, that he jumped up on it and rolled around a few times before totally flopping.  I followed his lead and after setting an alarm for 90 minutes we laid down to grab some rest.

30 Minutes to go

Sky's crate labeled up and ready to go

At 6am the alarm went off and Sky and I wearily pulled ourselves out of bed and got ready to head to the airport.  I thanked the hotel staff again and we were off to JFK.  We made it just on time at 6:30am to the JFK Airport Cargo area where we were meeting someone from the pet relocation service to help hand Sky off.  The past 48 Hours had been a mission but we made it!

Saying goodbye in NYC until we arrive in Namibia

After we sat around for a while at the cargo area while paperwork was processed we assembled Sky’s crate and I took some time to walk him around and enjoy our last few minutes together before his big trip.  Before we went back into the building to prep him to go I started to feel a little nervous.  After the paperwork was completed we gave Sky a last pat on the head, put some water in the bowl and then got him into the crate and zip tied the doors shut.  That was it.  We stood there for a few minutes as the cargo guys sorted the final paperwork and then they took him from there.  A few more hours from now Sky would be on his way to Johannesburg.  It was definitely much harder than I thought to leave him there alone to be put on the airplane by the cargo guys.  I don't like to admit it but I'm probably just as protective as our little dogs as I would be of a child so I felt a little chocked up while leaving.  The only thing to do was to remain confident in all the people doing their jobs along the way and that he'd be safe and sound when he eventually arrived. 

I, meanwhile, was now mentally and physically exhausted and headed back to my apartment in NYC where I was planning on sleeping all day before packing to board my own flight to Johannesburg the next day.

Our Plane to Johannesburg

Sky Arrives in South Africa

Post flight meal in Jo-berg

After a 15 hour flight Sky finally arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa.  A local dog kennel owner in Jo-berg picked up Sky from the airport and then took him back to their kennel to walk, feed and give him a check up after the long journey.  The folks at the kennel even sent us some photos so we could see that he was doing well!  They also reported that he was so excited when they let him out of the kennel that he wouldn’t keep still except when eating his post flight meal.  After a night stay at the kennel Sky was to be put on a final flight in Jo-berg headed for Windhoek the next morning.  I had flown to Jo-berg as well by this time and we were scheduled to be on the same flight.

Arrival in Namibia

Once the flight arrived in Namibia I hurried to clear passport control and customs to go find Steph and pickup Sky.  The only bummer was that my bags never showed up.  Unfortunately, this is a common problem with the Jo-berg airport and since I had only a 70 minute layover my bags never had a chance to make it.  No worries, they would arrive on the next flight and we’d get them at some point.  On to cargo to find Sky!

We got to the cargo building  just a few minutes from the airport terminal and the asked for Sky.  The guy looked kinda crazy at us and pulled the cargo manifest.  No animals were put on board.  I asked “So, where is our dog?”  The response was sort of a shrug and “Maybe he’ll be on the next flight?”  Not exactly confidence instilling.  I quickly called our pet relocation person in the US (waking her up at like 3am) and asked where our dog was.  She tiredly said she was looking into it and we just waited hoping everything was OK.

Sky Safely in his kennel at Jo-berg Airport

After an hour or so we got an email saying Sky was left off the plane because they couldn’t get the cargo hold temperature correct.  Of course, the airline did this but didn’t inform anyone else about their decision.  After another hour we heard back that Sky was going to be put on the next plane and the the South African Kennel people were going to go back to the airport to walk him and get him some water before taking the trip.  To their credit too they also sent us another photo of him in the kennel so we could see that he was doing OK.

Several hours later we returned to the Airport to retrieve Sky and my luggage.  To our pleasure we went to pick him up and this time he was there and we could see him behind the cargo gates in his kennel.  After some painfully slow paperwork procedures and stamping of things (the government agencies do everything on paper instead of computers) we finally picked up Sky!  I can only imagine what he was thinking after 3 days and 10,000 miles of travel.  I think Sky probably rivals most people in the US for amount of travel in 3 days let alone a lifetime.

Sky and Stephanie on arrival in Namibia!

Finally together at our new home

Sky, Steph and Robert

A couple weeks later now and Sky and us are all settling in quite nicely now.  Sky is getting used to the heat all the plethora of new sights and smells and seems to be enjoying every bit of it.  We’ve taken him on walks and just around our house we’ve come across warthog, oryx, kudu and cheetahs (behind a fence luckily).  Sky’s favorite pastime at the moment is chasing bugs around the our use at night…and there are plenty of bugs to chase since it’s Africa.