Facts: You love travel. You love your big dog. You want to spend a few months, a year, or, who knows, perhaps move overseas. Depending on your location, it might not be difficult. In fact, some airlines even permit in-cabin pets. Just ask Blackcomb, my Maine Coon cat who traveled with his daddy from Denver to Atlantida, Uruguay.
When we discovered that Uruguay had a liberal policy about four-legged expats, we were more excited about moving here. There was no quarantine period, and, all things considered, only a minimal amount of red tape. The problems arose when we considered the costs.
As you can see from his photo, Whistler, my greyhound, is a big guy. Big doggies don’t get to fly with the luggage. They ride in cargo, which costs about $5,000, and you don’t get peanuts, movies or reclining seats. There was no possible way we could afford it. In fact, we were not even sure that we could afford to bring our cat. For a while, the unspeakable “A” word (for adoption), loomed in the darkest corners of our sub-conscious.
The Buenos Aires Loophole
We soon learned that it was cheaper to fly Whistler into Buenos Aires, and bring him across the Rio de la Plata by boat. Our friend Marcela lives in Uruguay, but she is originally from Argentina. Her brother lives in Buenos Aires, she offered to pick up Whistler and bring him to us. Prior to the trip, United Airlines PetSafe had informed us of all the necessary fees, as well as every vaccination required. We followed these requirements to the T. The flights went smoothly, but the nightmare began soon after.
Pay Us $956 US Dollars or We Kill Your Dog
Whistler arrived in the cargo section of Ezeiza Airport at 9:39 a.m., and Marcela and her brother Diego were there to greet him. Upon reaching the cargo section, my friends were informed that “a new rule went into effect on Monday,” and that we owe an extra $956 in US funds.
“If you don’t have the money, we will give you three days to get it,” they said. “During that time, we will not feed the dog, or take him out for a walk, but we will charge you $300 US a day. We intend to kill your dog if you don’t come up with the money.”
If there had been a legitimate “rule change on Monday,” why weren’t passengers of flights leaving on Tuesday informed? I contacted United Airlines Petsafe, and they informed me that the extra money was a “broker’s fee.” However, none of the receipts we received indicated any sort of “brokerage fee.” Meanwhile, other US citizens were being charged $1500 reciprocity fees instead of the usual $160.
Furthermore, it has become common knowledge that it is impossible to withdraw US funds in Argentina, so even if we could immediately come up with the money, how were we supposed to send it? Marcela’s brother Diego was somehow able to borrow it from the company he works for. When he arrived back at the airport with US cash, the officials told him that the office where they were supposed to deposit the money was closed, and they would have to let the dog stay at the airport another night. Again, no food, no water. This was more than Diego could take.
“Give me a knife!” he said.
The airport officials were taken aback, especially since outside, a major demonstration was taking place on the streets of Buenos Aires. Diego grabbed the knife from the official, cut the ropes tied around Whistler’s crate, and brought him back to his apartment in Buenos Aires, where he slept snuggled up to Marcela’s daughter. The next evening, he arrived in Atlanida. The following morning, he went walking along the beach, unaware of the near tragedy that nearly befell him.
Letters to Authorities
A few days after this incident, I sent emails to the following organizations:
I have yet to receive a reply, and I doubt that I will.
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition
Who remembers those Monty Python skits? When a country is on the verge of political instability, both two-legged and four-legged travelers must be prepared for any type of irregularity, be it an inquisition, or a demand for a bribe.
Argentina is not unique. Corruption and bribery prevail throughout the globe. As a pet parent, you’re almost as vulnerable as the parent of a human child. It’s possible that on the same day that Whistler arrived in the airport’s cargo section, people in the regular section of the airport passed through customs without incidence.
Big Dog Vulnerability
If your dog is in cargo, it’s a big dog, and probably a valuable dog. Anyone with a corrupt mind sees an opportunity, which probably explains the $1500 reciprocity fee. Easy to play on a dog-lover’s vulnerability.
How To Prepare
As of October 1, 2012, you will be able to pay the $160 reciprocity fee online.
This might protect you from being hit up for higher fees. Here are some big dog travel options:
- Ask someone from Argentina to accompany you. Sure, my friends had problems, but Whistler did get out. Other dogs were not so lucky.
- If Uruguay is your destination, and you can’t afford the $5,000 American Airlines fee, LAN Airlines flies to Montevideo. CAVEAT: They only fly pets out of LA, and you must use a California vet for the international veterinary certificate.
- If Argentina is your destination, avoid flying into Buenos Aires. Use the above option to get to Montevideo, then take Buquebus to Buenos Aires. The Buquebus employees were apparently appalled by the incident. So appalled that they offered to walk Whistler during the boat ride, even though it’s not their regular practice.
Argentina is still on of my favorite travel destinations, but until some of its issues are resolved, I would advise against it for pet travel.