Photo Credits: Tia Johnson
PCSing is stressful enough on its own, but throw a pet into the mix and it can be quite a daunting task. Luckily, you have Toby the Army Woof here with some advice on making it as hassle-free as possible. With help from my owners, Dave and Tia, I successfully made it over to Germany over a year and a half ago and I’m ready to share my experience.
5) We may be part of the family but we’re not dependents.
Although Tia and Dave sometimes treat me like I’m their human child, the Army does not consider me a dependent. I could certainly argue that I am VERY dependent on my owners but legally this means that the Army does not cover any of the costs associated with PCSing with a pet. This includes airline tickets, hotel pet fees, food, medical expenses, lost chew toys and peanut butter flavored treats. As soon as you know where you’re going, start researching the costs associated with bringing a pet. Shipping a pet can cost over $2,000 in some cases and as little as $200 in others, therefore, it’s important to budget for your pets when planning your PCS. It all depends on where you’re going, when you’re going, and your pet’s size. There are now fees for bringing a pet into Germany that must be paid when you land and those are in addition to whatever your airline may charge. So, just like when you go on vacation, having a credit card and extra cash on hand is a good idea to avoid delays and complications.
4) Double check the pet policy.
Tia has a funny saying that goes “You know what assuming does?”….apparently it has something to do with turning people into donkeys. Anyway, “assuming” that you know the airline’s pet policy that you’re booked on is not a good way to start a trip. Airlines change their policies all the time and even have rules about the time of year pets can fly. I was lucky and fit into a carrier that Tia could bring into the cabin and put under the seat. Some of my larger friends could only fly in the cargo hold and had to have different cages than me. Tia likes to check the airline’s website but even then things can be confusing so she always calls to double check and to be sure that I’m booked on the flight too. Arriving at the airport all packed and ready, only to find that your airline has different requirements than you thought would really put a damper on the day.
3) Pick up the phone.
My memory isn’t that great and I rely on Tia to plan out my days but I can be sure that she is always planning ahead for any trip or PCS. Every installation has rules regarding pets. These can include leash laws, housing regulations, micro chipping, and breed restrictions. Bringing me from Tennessee to Oklahoma wasn’t very complicated and only required Tia to make sure I was registered with the new post’s veterinary office. However, it’s really good to contact the vet office to see what the requirements are in your new home. Unfortunately there are many places that have outlawed certain breeds of dogs. I have a friend who is a pit bull and she is really sweet and good natured, however she would not be allowed to come to Germany because of the laws here. It’s also important to call ahead because certain breeds are allowed if they can pass a temperament test. Also, all pets are required to be up to date on their vaccinations and have a clean bill of health so it’s a good idea to keep copies of your pet’s records at home.
2) Be ready for anything.
When we moved to Germany, Tia joked that I had more things in her suit case than she did! I have to say that I’m glad she packed for me. She made sure that she had multiple copies of all my vet records, a month’s supply of my medication, extra food, toys, and a coat. She even packed me some puppy pads and baby wipes in case we got stuck somewhere and I had to ‘go’. She also had a huge packet labeled TOBY that she put in her carry on. This contained my vet records and my paperwork that allowed me to enter Germany. Since we move so much and I see different vets in each place, Tia keeps a folder of all my vet records. It comes in handy when the new vet wants to know what medication I take and if I’m up to date on my shots. It’s much easier than trying to call five different vets and having them fax my files all over the place. She also wasn’t sure if she would be able to buy my food where we were going so she made sure she had enough to last me long enough to gradually switch to a different food if we needed to. That was good because we did have to switch and being able to do it gradually was much easier on my stomach. She also planned ahead by having a month’s supply of my meds on hand so that there would be no rush on getting me into the vet for a refill once we landed.
1) Lawn chairs are disposable, pets are not.
There are only a few cases where it is impossible to bring your pet with you for a PCS. “It’s too hard” is not a valid excuse for dumping your dog or cat at the shelter or worse just leaving them behind. I know that I cost Dave and Tia at least $300 to get me over to Germany with them and even more in hotel pet fees. However, they knew that when they adopted me that they made a commitment to me for the rest of my life… not just until ‘it got too hard’. If you know that you cannot afford to ship your pet to your next duty station, then ask a family member to care for them until you return or until you can afford to bring them over. While she volunteered at the shelter, Tia says she saw families bring pets that they had owned for 7 years to the shelter because ‘we have kids and I can’t deal with cats and kids while moving’. I’d bite their ankle if I could! As a military family you know that you’ll be moving a lot and having a pet is a big responsibility. You can’t dispose of us and replace us at each new home like lawn furniture.
I guess in the end the best advice I can give you pet owners facing a PCS is to be prepared. If you plan ahead and plan for the unexpected (as best you can) then you’re sure to have a successful PCS and your furry friend will be happy too!