After the two positive experiences with United Airlines I was absolutely convinced to have found a carrier that combines competitive pricing with excellent service. I therefore agreed to have a nice trip to Finland to visit my colleagues, take a Sloughi along and visit with the Finnish Sloughi people. Boy was I mistaken. I booked my flight and called the airline to reserve the trip for V’Hiba. When I called I was connected to the Continental animal shipment. Instead of paying $200, V;Hiba’s trip would cost for her alone $ 900. Combine this with the $1,600 for my own ticket and we are outside the pleasure trip spending but talk about real money. Upon my question to the Continental representative why the United pet carrier system was abandoned, I was told that the merger had resulted in reviewing both systems and the continental pet policy was deemed superior and thus adopted. All of this took place on March 1st and I could have been grandfathered in if I would have booked just a few days earlier. Needless to say that I told the representative that they might want to listen to their customers before they decide on the superiorty of a Pet service. When I added that I for one would cancel my trip the representative hung up on me.
So what to do next?. I contacted Lufthansa but they would now also charge the Continental pet sevice fee. Next stop, a guy specialized in animal shipping. After all, that is the way we had received Tomu and sent Sabih to Finland. Yes, he would look into that and he called me later with a price of nearly $2,000. So shipping a dog alone is more expensive than flying a person and a dog. I called Dominique and she pointed out that we had good experience in the past with Delta dash, so I tried Delta/KLM. The first surprise was that the shortest possible trip for V;Hiba would be through Amsterdam not my preferred route through Frankfurt to visit my relatives. In fact, when I checked on prices I realized that going through Frankfurt on my return trip would cost me roughly $800 extra. Prices turned out to be also very nice, $800 instead of 1,600 for the roundtrip for me. So, that was a welcome surprise, cheaper and faster, but no stop in Frankfurt to see my family.
Then the next step, prices for the Sloughi. On the website it was stated that a class four kennel, a size she needed , would be $200 for the trip. I chatted a little with the representative and everything was carved in stone. Now Dominique could get busy and do her part, getting all the paperwork ready. She would need to go to her veterinarian followed by a trip of nearly 100 miles to the United States Department of Agriculture for all the paperwork. On Tuesday we called each other, she in her car driving home, I in my car driving home from Iowa City. One of the risks looming over us was of course the notoriously unpredictable weather in the MidWest.. As it turned out, we were in a heat-wave with temperatures reaching nearly 80F (about 28C). It was in fact so warm that I had to turn on the air conditioner on my way home to Iowa City. At 10pm I was back in Iowa City, with V’Hiba, having completed the first 500 miles of an uneventful trip thus far.
The next morning I got up early to pack all my stuff, feed and walk V’Hiba so that she would have no problem in the car or the plane. She was very nervous with all the car noises around her but eventually managed to do her business. We jumped in the car and off we went for Chicago. After 300 miles I tried to pull into the long-term parking lot but was redirected because of overflow. As It turned out I could get from the redirected lot onto the main lot and found a small spot next to a machine where just my little Suzuki could fit into. It was hot again, so I gave water to Hiba which she drank while I assembled her crate. I also found a cart to put the crate on and walked to the train station. No problem to get to the international terminal, the first stop on this train trip. Dragging the crate and my luggage with Hiba next to me, I entered the terminal. A police officer helped me put the crate on a cart and I could easily push my luggage through the airport to the KLM/air France check in. All service women were French and once we realized that we could proceed in French, things went along easily, sort of. In the end, it took almost 1 hour to get all the paperwork squared away while Hiba was waiting in her crate. We still had about 2 hours left before departure and I asked if I could walk Hiba before the long trip. Of course, I could leave the crate with them, taking only Hiba and my carry on with me. It was just perfect, only a few people were sitting on the lawn enjoying the sun and Hiba was falling asleep on my lap. No problem with that Sloughia. After 60 minutes I went back in, put her in the crate and pushed the crate to the security. A guy who had been sitting outside next to me for a while turned out to be the security chief. We talked a little about the nice weather while he was checking Hiba through. Yes, I would see her in Helsinki, everything was clear, no complains about the crate or any aspect of the paperwork. The biggest hurdle of the trip was behind me, now I could relax until departure.
After I found my seat in the plane, I called the flight attendant and she went immediately to check for my little Sloughia. As more and more passengers flooded in, she could not make it back to me. But I saw her in the parallel aisle, we made eye contact and she smiled and showed me thumbs up. Hiba was on board, the trip to Europe could start. The fligt to Amsterdam arrived in time in the morning and I had to walk to other end of this large airport. Layover was tight and I was nervous that Hiba may not have made it. Again, the Dutch flight attendant was kind enough to check and told me that Hiba just came on board, “a blond dog.” Yes, that was Hiba. Now the last leg of her journey could begin. After about two more hours, we arrived in Helsinki. Of course, Helsinki was still in winter, with heaps of snow everywhere, and I was in my shirt, that was all I had needed in Chicago. First thing, take out a sweater from my luggage. But before that I had to find my little girl. So I ran through the baggage claim area and there she was, sitting quietly in her box. I got a cart, drove to the conveyer and got my luggage.
Next stop, going through customs. I checked, but I could not see anybody either in the ‘Nothing to declare’ nor in the ‘Something to declare’ area. So I walked with the crate and my luggage on the cart through the ‘Nothing to declare’ exit. As soon as I was through three finish women were around me, two Pia’s and Ulla. We took the crate off the cart, I got my leash out and we got our little princes out of her box. She was immediately ‘at home’, greeted everybody and took food from Pia’s hand. In fact she jumped right up on her to beg for more. Pia Puomila meanwhile had spotted where I could deposit the crate for the next two days before my return trip. After that, we had a coffee and waited for Ulla Pirvola, my science friend, to call, find out where we are and pick me up. So, there I was, two Ullas, two Pias, Hiba and myself. There was a lot of Finnish discussion going on which I did not understand but in the car Ulla translated to me that we would meet some of the Finnish Sloughi people and their Sloughis near the Institute where she works the next day.
After a day filled with scientific discussions, Ulla got the call that they would be waiting in the parking lot. We went down but could not see anybody as there had been confusion about the parking lot. A few minute later they came with the largest collection of Sloughis I have seen outside of Shi’Rayan. I got introduced to each Sloughi/Sloughia, discussed some of the problems they had like ear tip bleeding and what to do about it, pointed out strength and weaknesses I could see and showed in the end Sabih, moving him into a nice stack. All these activities were documented by Pia Chaouki and are now all over Facebook with lots of comments. After an hour, I got cold as my gear was not the right one for the Finnish winter we were in. So we walked back to the parking lot where Pia’s husband picked up many of the Sloughis and their owners in his large taxi van. I briefly talked with him, in French as the only language we had in common (his German and English are like my Finnish and Arabic). After that I kissed good-bye to Hiba who was already clearly loved by Pia’s and did not care too much about me anymore. Clearly, she has found a great loving place and will add to the genetic diversity of the Finnish Sloughi breeding soon.
The next day we visited a museum of modern art and eventually Ulla drove me to the airport. I picked up my crate and found out that my plane would arrive with just enough delay in Amsterdam that I will miss my connecting flight. At that point in time I was still on US time, found an electric outlet and worked on a paper until 5am the next morning. After a nice breakfast at Schipol airport I borded my plane to Detroit and on to Chicago where I picked up my car and drove home.