And so the adventure begins. While settling in and gradually recovering from jet lag, I thought I’d start this blog with the first American/German difference I encountered which had to do with the cats. Traveling internationally with pets was the most stressful part of the journey but I was surprised by the contrast between the treatment of pets between the two countries. Don’t even get me started on the hassle the American military vet, who I have no intention of ever using now, gave me when I wanted to pre-order prescription food beforehand. I thought Americans were pretty obsessed with pets, but it turns out that Germany is much pet-friendlier (at least in my experience).
For those of you who don’t know the cats already, I named Oriole (later nicknamed and known exclusively as “The Scootch”) and Raven after the baseball and football teams when I lived in Baltimore. The Scootch is a very large tiger-striped cat who, like most tiger cats, is friendly and outgoing in a pushy way. Raven is gray and a little smaller, sweet and cuddly, but extremely shy. He always hides whenever guests are in the house. When they go to the vet, they tend to switch personalities with Raven nosing around the office and The Scootch refusing to come out of his carrier or hissing at anyone in the room.
So our flight preparation began at the United Airlines Cargo Center, a short drive from the main building of Dulles Airport outside of DC. A handful of staff stood behind the desk and a handful of customers sat or stood around the small office with their dogs, some in carriers already and some on leashes. Soon after being ignored by everyone working there I asked what I needed to do to check in my cats. I began filling out paperwork at the desk and was soon called over to a different area of the desk by an older lady with small thick glasses. She typed on her computer without looking up at me or James or asking any questions, and we continued with the forms.
Finally the woman asked, “So you’re going to London?”
“What?! No, Frankfurt.”
“I don’t see Frankfurt here,” she said, pointing down at a typed list of passengers and flights. “You’re John Hammond? Traveling with two dogs to London?”
Keep in mind that our cats remained in the carriers behind us. It turns out there was a second page to that list that did include our Frankfurt flight. The woman continued to type away with a look of bewilderment frozen on her face for a long time. At one point she held up a photocopy of my passport and driver’s license and asked, “Is this your passport?” looking at James. “I’ll also need your driver’s license.”
Somehow the final printout that needed to be attached to the cat carriers contained all of the correct information at the end. Well, except that James’s last name had z’s for c’s and a few too many vowels. Fast forward through check-in, checking bags, racing through security, and an almost eight-hour flight.
Picking up the cats on the other end started out looking like a similar story. We asked a few different airport staff members after exiting the airplane where we should go to pick up our cats. They all asked where we were going (I guess because Frankfurt is a major airport for connections?). The final correct answer was that they were in a separate cargo center again. Fortunately, when James’s friend Steve picked us up, he had arranged a van with a driver who knew the whole cargo pet-pick-up deal.
The Lufthansa Cargo Center was a totally different experience from the United Airlines one. Very clearly organized. In fact, a few days later I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal that commented on its excellent service for pets. The first staff member we encountered let us know at the beginning that the cats were waiting in the “Animal Lounge” with food and water, so we wouldn’t need to worry about rushing. Which turned out to be a good thing because we had to go to a series of different offices, returning to the main office after each stage was completed: Go down the hall and then come back with your receipt. Take these swipe cards to the building 200 meters away and bring your paperwork back here after it’s stamped. Now go downstairs and come back here when you’re finished. And so on.
After the last step, we just needed to wait in the parking lot outside to have the cats brought out to us. This took quite a while. Finally, a lady from the downstairs office came outside alone and said, “We have both of your pets. But there is a problem.” She paused slightly and my imagination ran wild. They would have had to tell me at the beginning if one of the cats hadn’t made it or something, right?
It turns out that the problem was that they couldn’t get one of the cats to go back into the carrier. They wondered if James or I thought we could get the cat to come out without stressing it further. I assumed it was The Scootch and asked James to see if he could get him. The last time we had gone to the vet The Scootch had even swatted at me when I was near him and I was in no mood to be attacked. He agreed, then said, “Wait, which one is it?” When they answered that it was the gray one, I changed my mind. That would be easy. I had to dress in a paper lab coat and booties over my shoes to enter the quiet animal shelter-style lounge. Sure enough, Raven was crouched in a corner and let me pick him up right away and put him back in the carrier so we could leave.
The Hilton Hotel in Mainz, where we’re staying until we find a place to rent, has proved to be pet-friendly so far too. We have a door hanger that says “Hautiere sind Wilkommen/Pets are Welcome” and have worked out a schedule with housekeeping upon their request so that the pets will be safely tucked away or supervised during their short daily visits. James had asked if we could close them in our walk-in closet during that time instead of back in their carriers. Apparently there is not really a word for “closet” and this area is known as the “cupboard” here. On the first morning when we came back from breakfast to let the cats out, Raven raced out and we found The Scootch nestled in between the bags of food on a shelf just above our heads. The second day, they broke out while we were away and we had to call housekeeping to reschedule. They seem to be enjoying the city view from the wide windowsills, particularly of the pigeons that land outside our 4th floor room.