Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Interview Wednesday - Two International Moves WITH Dogs

Today, we have an interview with Kirsten who has moved continents with her dogs. Kirsten has had quite the life - working for the United Nations! - and she is an international human rights lawyer (How COOL is that?!). She took time out of her very busy schedule juggling her job, her children, and her dogs, to answer some questions for us!

How many pets do you have?

I have two dogs. They are a handful.

When did you get your first dog? 

My first dog, Katy came to me when I lived in Washington DC. I was single and free and had just broken up with a boyfriend, so I thought a dog would be good. My mother thought that was a very bad idea. She thought I was not settled enough and that having a dog is a big responsibility. She was right. Luckily, I found the most amazing, perfect puppy in the world. She was 6 months old, and her sweet picture was on on the internet. I saw her and drove the next day 2 hours down into Virginia to meet her in the snow. The staff was hesitant, they told me she probably needed a retired couple because she was scared and nervous. If I wanted a puppy that was good for a family they suggested some other pups they had. No, I said, could I please just meet her. It was love at first sight. She has been my very best friend since that moment. The staff quickly agreed that we were a great match and within 3 days I had a home visit done, background check done and a new puppy at my home. She is about the best, most gentle soul I have ever met.

And the second?

Twiga is my second puppy. She is a whole other ball of wax. I got her when living in Africa 5 years after I got Katy. Twiga was being abused by my neighbor and it took quite a bit of negotiating to allow the neighbor to hand me over the dog. She came with another pal, Zari. I got them both nursed back to health. They came to me nearly starved, flea ridden and sick with worms. I brought them back to the States where we got home training and more health care. Twiga had a very bad worm that nearly cost her her life. Finally, after surgery she began to gain weight. Zari had an infected eye from being beaten which would eventually need to be taken out, so he is blind in one eye. Once they were acclimated, house trained (they went EVERYWHERE when they first came home. The couch leg was toast!), and leash trained (boy did they HATE a leash), I separated them giving Zari to my parents (poor dear parents) and I kept Twiga. She hates all other dogs, except Katy. She doesn't like Katy but after trying desperately to fight with her, to no avail, Twiga now just ignores Katy. Katy does NOT get the feeling she is very disdainful of fighting, it is simply beneath her.

The number one reason pets are relinquished to the shelter is MOVING. How many times have you moved with the dogs? And where did you move to/from?

It would NEVER occur to me to give my pets away to move. I have left Katy for brief periods of time at my parents home. But, if I hadn't been able to do that, I would not have gone. I am an international human rights lawyer, so I move around a lot, internationally. Early on, I had a few short contracts with the UN where I would moved for 3 or 4 months to a country. during those two periods, I left Katy with my parents. Otherwise, I take my dogs where I go. I've moved A LOT. from DC to Ca (I only had Katy and I packed the moving truck and hired movers to drive it across the country, then Katy and I loaded up my jeep and trecked across the country together from DC to California for law school). After law school I started working for the UN. I've moved from the US, to Geneva, to The Hague, to Nairobi, to Tanzania....and at least one, sometimes two, or three dogs have always come.

How hard was it moving internationally with dogs?

It hasn't been that hard to move. OK...that's not really true. The truth is that it does take some extra planning and extra work to make sure I'm moving safely and taking care of the dogs. But....that's my responsibility. When you take on a pet, you have a duty of responsibility. So...when I know I'm going to move, I have to be sure that the dogs have all the shot and chip requirements of country we are headed. I refuse to move to a quarantine country. I won't quarantine my dogs. PERIOD. Each country has different regulations, so I have to research and make sure my vet knows what is needed. Then, I have to research the airlines (there are only certain ones I will fly with the dogs) and then research to be sure that I can get them on a straight through flight if possible, and if not, then only one other stop. If coming from Africa to America we have to stop in Europe, but I will only fly through Amsterdam or Frankfurt, which have good options for dogs on layovers. I try to fly business or first class when I can (if moving the UN usually pays and if you are moving countries you usually have business class authorization) because the pilots and attendants are more apt to assist you in being sure your dog is taken care of in business class. I cause a fuss at the beginning of the flight and want the pilot to have confirmation from the ground crew that my dogs are on board before the doors close. Upon landing I make a huge fuss that the ground crew is radioed that there are dogs on board who need off the tarmac immediately. OH, and I always check the weather and won't fly or layover anywhere with extreme weather. I've delayed flights a few days to wait for the weather to cool. On a layover I make a fuss (and have resorted to crying) in order to see the dogs and make sure they have food, water and are taken care of. In essence, I am a PAIN in the neck....but I figure it's my job to keep those dogs safe, so I don't really care. Yes, it's more difficult to travel with them....yes, they are worth it.

Was there ever a point you thought 'I'm just going to leave Katy/Twiga'?

No. Except when I was only going for a summer or very short time....only because I had a place to leave Katy that was easier on her than the move would have been. if I hadn't had my parents as an option to leave her, I wouldn't have gone. I am expecting another international moved this August and I just went to the vet for Katy's senior check up. I asked him if she was too old to make this kind of move (she's 13 1/2 now) and if so, I would not consider taking the job. He assured me that she can make the move, no problem, if she stays as health as she is now. If something happens though...I won't go. She is older and I need to be sure that these last years of her life are as easy and happy for her as possible.

How have you all settled in - kids, dogs, Kirsten?

Now I have small kids. Two kids, two dogs and one grown up makes for a very busy mama and household. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. Katy and Clara Shei (my more quiet and thoughtful daughter) identify much more while Akira and Twiga, the two very rambunctious members of the family have quite a relationship. Twiga tells him when she's had enough. I never leave the dogs and kids alone together though....for everyone's sake. The kids wouldn't ever maliciously hurt the dogs, but they might accidentally and it's just better to have an adult there to protect everyone. I feel the worst for Katy to be honest. She's older and she is SO good and SO easy that she doesn't always get the attention she deserves. Then, I'll notice her get a bit droopy and it will remind me that she might not bark or destroy things but that doesn't mean she doesn't need my attention. Plus, I love that special time each day when I'm on a walk with just Katy....we've been together for 13 years now, and she really is dear to me. My daughter has asked me before why I love Katy more than she and her brother. I explain that I don't love Katy more, but I do love her as much! Plus, she behaves better than they do.

Anything else you want to share with us? Any final thoughts?

I'm not going to say that's its no big deal to move with pets. It should be a big deal...the same way you make sure your kids are safe when you move, you make sure your dogs are safe when you move. You should. Your kids need the vaccinations, and so do your dogs. Your kids needs an easy flight route, so do your dogs. Would you leave your kids behind because it was too hard to fly with them? No. And, I won't leave my dogs either. A family move has to work for everyone, me, the kids and the dogs. We are a family and no one in a family gets left behind.

How amazing is Kirsten?! We have so much respect for her. Not only is she an amazing Mom to her kids (two and four legged), she has lived an incredible life. We can't thank her enough for her time. She has so little to spare, but she managed to find a few minutes to share with us!

Has anyone else ever moved internationally with their pets?

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