How to Travel Internationally With a Big German Shepherd and Come Within Inches of Losing Your Mind
I’m just gonna come out and say it…moving from Southern Chile to the Yucatan Peninsula with our dog was a nightmare. I’ve never flown with a pet before so I’m not sure if what we went through was normal or not, but man am I ever glad it is over!
You see…Bruno is a big dog. The first hurdle was getting a cage that he could stand up, lay down, and turn around in with a few inches to spare. Turns out not many dogs in Chile are as tall as he is, so we had to special order a cage from Santiago, which was over $500usd. The problem there is that, as foreigners, our credit cards are not accepted on Chilean websites. Thankfully, our friend Pablo called em up and arranged it so we could just go to Santander Bank in Plaza de las Armas and transfer cash to the company. He also got the delivery set up. Even after it arrived, I was so stressed he was still too big! I measured him like 10 times a day and finally had to just let it go…this was the biggest cage in Chile and it would have to do!
He seemed to like it anyhow! Next step was figuring out the most important leg of the trip: Santiago, Chile, to Cancun, Mexico. Because of his size, nearly all the airlines would not accept him. I finally found one, Copa Airlines, that takes the Cajas Gigantes (giant cages), but you can’t just call the airline and put him on your flight, you MUST use a pet shipper. The only pet shipper approved by Copa was On the World International or OTWI. I blame a lot of the stress on my terrible Spanish, as our contact with the company did not speak any English. But I also blame this contact cause he was kind of an asshole. His
communication, his LACK of communication cost us thousands of extra dollars and could have jeopardized Bruno’s health (more on this in Part II). Bruno’s ticket alone cost $1800. When we started pinning down dates, we had to contact Daniel, our dude at OTWI, to check for routes and availability. He would not reply to my emails until the flights we had been interested in shot up over $1100 each. So it went…I would request a date, he would “check with the airline” and get back a week or more later when the flight was too expensive or sold out. Our original departure date was supposed to be November 22nd…we ended up not being able to leave until January 16th!!! We were going to possibly be able to go on the 12th of December, until Daniel casually informed us pets can’t be shipped between the 8th of December and the 8th of January. I was beyond frustrated. Once again, our wonderful Chilean friend, Nicolas, came to our aid and called the company a few times, but even Nico was getting frustrated by them!
Fast forward through countless emails where I was basically losing my mind and pleading with Daniel to get back to me in time for us to book a flight that wasn’t extortionately priced…we were able to book for January 16, 2017. The flights on November 22nd would have been around $500 each. We ended up paying close to a grand each anyhow. By that time, I just wanted to get out.
We met with our fantastic vet, Giselle at Minga Animal on Diego Portales in Castro, and she let us know exactly what Bruno needed to leave Chile and enter Mexico. He had to have:
- Pet Passport showing all the vaccinations he’s had since birth.
- Stamped document showing he received his rabies shot.
- Signed letter of health from our vet stating he was in good health to travel and that he had recently received flea and tick treatment. This cannot be older than 10 days at the time of travel. We had to go back and have her do a new one because of the delays.
- A document called a SAG (El Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero) that you MUST HAVE IF YOU ARE TRYING TO LEAVE CHILE WITH AN ANIMAL. Thankfully, our pet shipper handled this one.
Our next challenge was getting from Castro, Chiloe, to Santiago! It would have been so nice to just hop on a plane and arrive a short while later, but literally NOTHING about this trip was that easy.
Of course, Bruno was too big for ANY domestic flights! So ok, let’s rent a car…oh wait, his freaking cage is too big for a standard car! So let’s rent a pickup at double the price! Another $1000 went into the road trip.
I actually loved the drive to Santiago. Our pickup had cruise control and after Puerto Montt, it’s just a straight shot up Ruta 5 to Santiago. Total trip was 1200km or about 745 miles. Seb doesn’t have his license (he grew up in England, where it is just easier to take public transportation), but he is an excellent co-pilot! I drove about 12 hrs the first day.
The drive is easy, but there are a lot of tolls! Seb had fun trying to pay each toll only in leftover coins…the toll ladies just LOVED us! LOL!!! The prices ranged from 700clp to 4000clp. I want to say there was 12 tolls?
Seb packed us a FANTASTIC lunch of fried chicken, boiled eggs, two delicious types of pasta salad, melons, fruits, nuts and candies!
We stopped every 200km or so for a break and to let Bruno stretch his legs/do his business. We pulled off the highway on an unmarked road for lunch and ended up in a eucalyptus forest! The air was so fragrant!
Bruno had a blast on the drive! He had the whole back seat all to himself and he loved riding with his head out the window! Interesting note: it is illegal to drive in Chile with your dog inside the cab without being restrained, so we bought a little leash that clipped into the seatbelt thing for like $2. I wish we could have just driven all the way to Mexico cause he was so calm and happy for the road trip.
We had already spent so much money on all our tickets and the rental and everything, so we decided we were gonna camp in the truck, rather than find a hotel that accepts pets and pay for a room for basically around 6 hrs. We grabbed a 6-pack of extremely overpriced Escudo beers at a roadside restaurant (I think it was outside of Linares, but I honestly can’t remember!) and pulled into like an abandoned construction site dirt parking lot thing…in the middle of nowhere. Probably not the smartest thing?
We ate dinner and drank our warm beers and settled in to watch a few episodes of Trailer Park Boys on the laptop before trying for some sleep. At around 3am, I sat straight up…”honey, COPS!” A cruiser pulled up with his lights flashing. I was totally out of it, but rolled down the window and explained (in perfect Spanish I’m guessing) that we’d been driving all day and just needed to sleep. They gave a thumbs up and drove off!
I didn’t sleep that great and was up before the sunrise and on the road. HAMMER TIME!!! …as my dad would say.
As you can see, Seb is not much of a morning person hahaha!
We cruised into Santiago with plenty of time to drop the rental off and meet with Daniel, the pet shipper guy. Santiago is kind of confusing!! We prepared ourselves by adding the GPS when we rented the truck…but it was not calibrated correctly or something! It would be like “Please turn left, 500 meters ago” THANKS FOR NOTHING!
We ended up calling Daniel, I’m talking on the phone illegally, I can barely hear him, my Spanish SUCKS, there are NO signs for the airport even though we were on the right road…yadda yadda yadda…WE MADE IT! YAY!
Thankfully things went smoothly returning the rental and we met up with Daniel. I was so worried about Bruno meeting him. Bruno does not like new people and I was just stressed about him being with a lot of new people during this whole trip. But they got along well. Whew!
We were supposed to drop Bruno off at noon, but his flight wasn’t until 1am! I think this is one reason why they think it’s ok to charge so much…cause they watch him for 12 hours and they claim it is in a safe, air conditioned area but we don’t really know. Just what exactly is the $1800 paying for? We convinced Daniel that Bruno didn’t need to be in a warehouse somewhere in his cage for that long, so we hung out in a grassy area for like 5 hours. We were in the shade, but Seb got a wicked sunburn anyhow!
Then, all of a sudden, it was time to say goodbye to Bruno and hand him over to this freaking stranger. I was basically a wreck. This whole experience was so stressful! We love our dog a lot, ok, so I’m not ashamed to say I cried hard when we dropped him off. Air travel is tough on dogs, I read horror stories of animals arriving dead or dying shortly after arriving. All this planning and millions of emails and coordinating and driving and then finally, it was out of my hands.
I think I’ll stop there for now. Stay tuned for Part II because, if you can believe it, it ain’t over baby. The actual flight/journey was also a nightmare! Just lovely 🙂 haha. Thanks for reading, I know it’s a long one!