condescending twatbags, dogs, safety, transportation, travel

Yes, you CAN fly your dog safely…

Featured photo is Arran in his carrier before we flew with him from Houston to Frankfurt in August 2014. Yes, we did take off his collar before the flight, as it was required by the airline.

This morning, I stumbled across yet another dog related horror story in the Washington Post. I’ve run out of gift articles for this month, but here’s the link and I’ll offer a quick and dirty recap. A family was moving from London to Nashville with their dog, Bluebell. They flew on British Airways, and somehow, the dog wound up going to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia instead of Nashville. Meanwhile, the dog meant to go to Riyadh wound up in Nashville.

When Bluebell finally got to Nashville, she was very upset after 63 hours in a crate. She’s had behavioral issues ever since her flight. The family is now trying to get compensated by IAG Cargo, the group that handles pet transportation for British Airways, as Bluebell has become destructive and very clingy. She was clearly traumatized by her international flying experience.

I don’t blame the family for wanting to be compensated for their terrible experience trying to fly their dog. It’s inexcusable that these two dogs ended up going to the wrong cities. Airline travel for pets is pretty awful, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It seems to have gotten more expensive in recent years, and we’re hearing more horror stories about dogs dying or being misrouted. However, the truth is, in spite of the horror stories and high costs of flying pets, the vast majority of pets who fly come through the experience with no issues whatsoever.

When we came to Germany the first time, back in 2007, we flew our beagles, Flea and MacGregor, on United Airlines as “excess baggage”. They were on the same flight with us, but in the hold of the plane. When we landed in Frankfurt eight hours later, they were waiting for us at the baggage claim. Flea was pitching a very noisy fit, but was otherwise just fine.

When we flew Delta Airlines out of Stuttgart in 2009, we had a couple of challenges. Flea had prostate cancer and, the day of our scheduled departure, a plane landed in Stuttgart without its landing gear. That shut down the runway, and our flight was delayed by a night while the mess was cleaned up. The next day, we flew to Atlanta with no problems. Once again, in spite of having cancer, Flea was pitching a huge, noisy fit… drawing admiration from southerners who like hunting dogs and drowning out the comments anyone had for us about flying with dogs.

But what was the alternative? Rehoming them in Germany? A lot of Germans already think Americans are shitty pet owners, precisely because some of them don’t take their pets with them when they move. Besides, Flea and MacGregor, both of whom are now at the Rainbow Bridge, were our babies. In those days, American carriers would fly pets as excess baggage. Now, they require people to use “cargo”, which as far as I can tell, just costs more and lands the animals in different parts of the airport.

When we moved back to Germany in 2014, we had Zane and Arran. We flew out of Houston on Lufthansa, which is probably the best airline for flying with pets. They flew as “excess baggage” again, but Lufthansa has holds that are light and temperature controlled. Again, no issues at all… They were waiting for us at baggage claim in Frankfurt. I don’t expect we’ll be flying with Arran again, since he has lymphoma and probably isn’t too much longer for the world. With Noyzi, we’ll probably need to hire a pet shipper, which will cost big bucks. But I fully expect he’ll survive the experience just fine. Thousands of animals travel with no issues whatsoever. The horror stories aren’t the norm, which is why they make the news.

Whenever there’s a news piece about an animal having a horrific experience on a plane, there are always a bunch of ignorant, emotionally rooted comments from people, most of whom have NEVER traveled internationally with a pet. They suggest doing things like rehoming the animal or hiring a private jet… or using a boat. To my knowledge, there is only ONE cruise ship that transports dogs and cats. That would be Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which travels between New York and Southampton, England. So if your pet needs to go somewhere other than across the Atlantic Ocean, you’re out of luck if you want to use a cruise ship. You also have to book way ahead, because there are only 24 kennels, and the cost could be prohibitive, especially for larger dogs, who might need two kennels. And it takes time to cross the Atlantic on a ship.

Chartering a private jet is also very expensive and, obviously, is not a realistic or feasible option for most people. Nevertheless, I saw people writing that that’s would they would try to do if they had to move abroad with a pet. I think they’d come down a few thousand feet if they saw how expensive that option is. People of average means won’t be able to swing the cost. It’s also not exactly the most environmentally sound option.

Some people think dogs should be allowed to fly in the cabin with people. They do things like claim their pets as support animals. The airlines in the United States have now pretty much banned emotional support animals on planes, because people were abusing the privilege and bringing untrained animals onboard, or they were bringing inappropriate animals, like peacocks and pigs. Dogs and mini horses are commonly used as assistance animals, and they can be specially and highly trained to do those jobs and behave appropriately in public spaces. Some people were trying to pass off their untrained pets as support animals, which does a huge disservice to actual support animals and the people who depend on them.

If your dog or cat is small enough, they can fly in a kennel under the seat in front of you. But they have to be really small to be able to do that. Most animals won’t qualify. So that’s why people find themselves flying with their pets as “excess baggage” or in cargo.

Our dogs in the Houston Airport before they went through security. They were so young!

Flying with pets can be extremely stressful and expensive. Sometimes, there are true horror stories caused by negligence on the part of the airlines or cargo staff, or due to the owners’ own idiocy. For instance, there was a very sad story a couple of years ago about people who flew their dog from Korea to Germany. They took their dog out of her carrier in an unsecure location. She got away from them and was killed by a car.

We had our own nightmarish pet transportation story, when we tried to adopt a dog just as COVID-19 was striking. The pet taxi driver who brought him to us took him out of his box before putting a leash on him, and he got away from her and found his way to the Autobahn. People blamed us, as we publicized the situation in an attempt to get him back to us safely, which sadly wasn’t to be. It was pure negligence on the pet taxi driver’s part, and she ended up being sued by the rescue who hired her to bring the dog to us. Yet, even though that happened to us with ground transportation, it’s still not the norm.

The vast majority of pet transportation outfits will get your pet from point A to point B without a problem. That’s true with any form of transportation. Airlines have been transporting pets for many years. But, when these kinds of horror stories are publicized, people are naturally outraged, and assume that flying with pets is inherently unsafe. The outrage then causes well meaning, but highly restrictive laws to be passed, which makes it much more difficult to travel with pets. While it may seem like common sense to tell people they shouldn’t have pets if they plan to move abroad, consider what that might mean for the many animals who are waiting for a home.

A whole lot of people who travel with pets are people who are in the military or work for the government. If all of those people quit adopting animals because they might have to move abroad, that would mean more pets in shelters and rescues, waiting for families. That will mean even more healthy pets being euthanized due to overcrowding in shelters. The people screaming about how “cruel” air travel is for pets never seem to think about that, do they?

Automatically telling people to simply rehome their pets if they have to move abroad is also a crappy and insensitive idea. Sometimes, that is actually the best solution, but I think it should be a last resort. Pets are family. Our dog, Arran, is very bonded to Bill, and he was passed around a lot when he was a puppy. I think he’d be heartbroken if we left him in Germany. We’d be heartbroken to leave him here.

It seems to me that what needs to happen is airline reform to accommodate pets who need to travel. Think of the animals who have been rescued from meat markets in China, or horrific puppy mills in Virginia, where their fate was to be sold to laboratories for medical research. Our own Noyzi came to us from Kosovo, where he was a street dog. Isn’t it better that he has a loving family? And shouldn’t we insist on being able to get him home with us safely, if and when the time comes for us to move back to the United States?

When we’ve had to fly with our dogs, we’ve done all we could to make sure they traveled as safely and comfortably as possible. That means booking the shortest route with no layovers, and driving as much as we can. Last time we had to travel with animals, we had the luxury of using Lufthansa. People who are flying on the government’s dime typically have to fly on US carriers for as far as possible. Until recently (and perhaps even still) people got around that rule by booking code shared flights through US carriers. That is, they’d book a ticket on, say, United Airlines, but it would be a Lufthansa flight. That way, the animals could fly as “excess baggage”, on the same flight as their owners. It was a lot cheaper, too.

Anyway… we don’t know how much longer we’ll be in Germany. We’re not in a big hurry to leave here. One of the main reasons we don’t want to move is because of having to travel internationally with our dogs. It really is an expensive, stressful pain in the ass. And this is just one area where airlines need to do a lot better. It’s also too bad that people become such judgmental twats when tragedies happen. Some of the people who were commenting on Bluebell’s case were blaming the family for what happened to her. It’s not their fault. They should be raising holy hell with the cargo company that routed her to the wrong city. Sounds like they’re doing just that. I hope they get the money they deserve.

Our sweet Zane, on his way from Houston to Frankfurt. I’m glad we didn’t rehome him. And yes, we did take off the collar before the flight.

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animals, controversies, dogs, mental health

Another day on the lymphoma roller coaster…

Today’s post title might be a tad dramatic. But then, I woke up at 2:30 am to Arran needing to go outside. He went downstairs and started to pee on my rug– a place where he’s peed a bunch of times before. But this was the first time I ever caught him in the act. “Arran!” I yelled, as I opened the door, “Go outside!” He went out and did his business, then wanted a treat, because he’s a beagle and Prednisone makes him hungry. I gave him a couple of dog cookies, then went back to bed.

A half hour later, Arran wanted to go out again. He was also obviously starving, so I gave him a handful of kibble. He went out, but not before he dropped a couple of turds on the same rug, which I stepped in with bare feet because it was dark in the room. So then I had to clean THAT up. Then, at about 4:00 am, Arran got up again, and this time he insisted on getting some food. The sound of the kibble hitting the metal bowl woke up Noyzi, who also thought it was time to eat. I made him go out while Arran ate a little more food to stave off his hunger pangs until a slightly more civilized hour.

Naturally, I couldn’t sleep after all of this activity, so I started reading the New York Times, where I read a couple of fascinating articles. One was about “atypical anorexia”, and with it was a photograph of an obese woman who, seemingly paradoxically, also suffers from anorexia. Naturally, there were many insensitive comments, as well as mean spirited laugh reactions. As someone who doesn’t look the part, but has dealt with eating disordered behaviors, that reaction really pisses me off. I thought it was a very insightful piece about a misunderstood problem that is killing a lot of people. If more people would read and understand about eating disorders with an open mind, lives might be saved. I was heartened to see a few stalwart folks speaking up about the ignorant idiots laughing at these women who are suffering from a hellish problem. I’ve about had it with the compassion challenged people in the world… especially the ones who are based in the United States. Anyone who wants to read about atypical anorexia is welcome to click the link, which should take you to the unlocked article.

Next, I read a sad update about a 26 year old retired New York City carriage horse named Ryder who, in August, became famous after he very publicly collapsed while working in Manhattan. After the collapse, Ryder got a new owner, and was sent to spend the rest of his days at a farm. But Ryder was losing weight and, on Monday, collapsed at the farm where he was living. Later, he had a seizure, and his new owner decided to have the Standardbred put down. You can read about Ryder by clicking the link, which is also an unlocked New York Times article.

The vet suspected that Ryder, like Arran, had lymphoma. I have no experience with equine lymphoma, but from what I’ve read, it’s expensive to treat, and horses who are diagnosed with it, are usually in an advanced stage of the disease. On the other hand, for those who have the means, chemo for horses with lymphoma can work. The University of Pennsylvania article I read reported that the mean survival rate for horses being treated with chemo for lymphoma is about 8 months, but that was taking into account horses who had died after just a month, and some who haven’t died yet after a couple of years. I have a feeling that, as it is with cancer a lot of the time, you just kind of have to leave it up to God.

As I know from personal experience, lymphoma often sneaks up on animals, and it varies in how bad it is. Ryder was already up there in years, so if he was still working in August and was ill with lymphoma, it’s no wonder he collapsed. Lymphoma causes weight loss and exhaustion, among other things, and unfortunately, even the best cared for animals can get cancer. While Ryder did have a new owner after his collapse, I wouldn’t necessarily assume the old one was abusive. It’s possible that he or she didn’t yet know that the horse was ill with cancer. There will be a necropsy to determine what ultimately caused Ryder’s demise.

My heart goes out to his reportedly devastated new owner, who doesn’t want to be identified, because people have been sending hate mail. As someone who also got a little bit of “hate” after we lost Jonny, the dog we tried to adopt in 2020 who escaped his pet transporter before making it into our home, I have empathy for Ryder’s owner. People can be really shitty to one another… and they justify being shitty for, frankly, spurious reasons, like tragedies that they negatively judge, often without having all of the facts or giving the situation much rational thought. What would have happened to Ryder if his latest owner hadn’t stepped up to care for him? I’m sure his owner’s loss is truly heartbreaking. The last thing he or she needs right now is shitty comments and mean spirited missives from so-called anti-carriage activists, especially if the cause of death really was cancer. People shouldn’t feel emboldened to harass others with hate mail, especially if they aren’t personally involved with a situation.

I do think that at age 26, Ryder was probably too old to be doing carriage work in New York City. I say “probably”, because I don’t like to make such statements without actually knowing the individuals involved; but in reality, I do think 26 is too old for horses doing that kind of work in a city. It’s a real shame that Ryder didn’t go to a farm earlier in his life. But, I also understand that these decisions can be complicated. One of the reasons I haven’t tried harder to get back into my beloved former pastime of riding is because I get attached, and my current lifestyle doesn’t really allow for having horses.

Horses aren’t like dogs. They don’t tend to stay with one owner their whole lives. And they require a lot of work and money to maintain. When they are part of someone’s livelihood, it’s not so easy to just decide to retire them simply due to age. But I will agree that in a just, humane world, these horses would get more kindness and consideration. On the other hand, I wish that for human beings, too. And most humans can’t afford to just take care of horses as “pets”. I also know that most horses prefer to work, especially when they are specifically bred for certain jobs. Standardbreds are usually bred for harness racing, so it makes sense that Ryder made his living pulling carriages.

I have mixed feelings about the New York City carriage horse industry, which has become very controversial in recent years. I don’t think working in Manhattan as a carriage horse is the most ideal life for equines, especially given that they don’t have a place to be turned out. However, I would rather see a horse working in Manhattan with somewhat decent, but less than ideal care than, say, being hoarded by some mentally ill nut, or being sent off to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered. Also, I do believe that many of the carriage drivers do care very much about their horses. Why would they choose that line of work if they didn’t enjoy it? As it is with anything, it takes all kinds. I just hope Ryder is resting well, and wish much peace and comfort to all of those who loved him. A lot of people who are against the industry are people who don’t know anything at all about horses.

Well, I suspect I’m going to be tired today, since I didn’t get much sleep… so I think I’ll practice guitar, and consider taking a nap… if Arran will let me, that is.

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animals, book reviews, nostalgia, religion

Exposing Bill to Black Beauty…

No, I’m not referring to the black pills or capsules filled with amphetamines, although there are times when I think Bill might benefit from a little speed. Kidding, of course… He’s just chronically tired, because he doesn’t sleep soundly.

No, not THESE Black Beauties.

I’m actually referring to the book, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. It was one of my favorite books when I was a child. In those days, I was certifiably horse crazy. My sisters had passed down several copies of the 1877 novel, which was English author Anna Sewell’s only book. I read it countless times when I was growing up. Curiously, Bill was never exposed to this children’s literature staple. He says it’s because he was reading “adult” books when he was a child. I would say that although Black Beauty is a supposed children’s book, there is much value in it for adults, too. Not only is it a good reminder that animals are sentient beings with thoughts and feelings, but there’s also a lot of wisdom in it that is surprisingly timely today.

Anna Sewell spent several years writing Black Beauty, as she was an invalid who was very ill during the last years of her life. Anna was not able to stand or walk for very long distances, owing to an accident she had when she was 14 that injured both of her ankles. She relied on horse drawn carriages to get around, which caused her to love and respect horses very much. Sadly, Anna died at age 57, only five months after her book was published. She did, however, live long enough to see its initial success. Black Beauty is now one of the most popular and best-selling books of all time. And yet, Bill hasn’t even seen any of the movies, or the 70s British television show. I used to love watching Black Beauty on Nickelodeon in the 80s, when I was a pre-teen.

The TV theme for the show based on the novel.

I don’t remember what prompted me to buy a Kindle version of Black Beauty last night and start reading it to Bill. I knew that more than once, I had told him he needed to read the book. He kept expressing interest whenever I mentioned it, but never got around to taking my suggestion. He was always too sleepy!

I finally took it upon myself to read it to him, so I knew he was exposed to the story. Sure enough, he was very quickly hooked. Black Beauty is a very engaging book, even for men in their late 50s. Bill loves animals, and this is a book that isn’t just about horses, but also other creatures. It’s a plea against cruelty, and a reminder that religion doesn’t necessarily determine someone’s value as a person. For instance, this morning, I read this in the final paragraph of Chapter 13:

“Your master never taught you a truer thing,” said John; “there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham—all a sham, James, and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out.”

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (p. 46). True Sign Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

As I read that, all I could think was that it was such a timely quote, given how things are today, in 2022. Anna Sewell was definitely a wise and intelligent woman, ahead of her time. I think about all of the so-called religious people– especially certain “Christians”– who claim a moral high ground because of their religious beliefs. And yet some of those people are the biggest liars, social climbers, and hypocrites ever! Give me a kindhearted atheist, any day.

Anna Sewell hadn’t meant for her book to be for children. She had wanted to increase awareness of animal welfare and promote kindness and sympathy, particularly toward horses, but likely also toward everyone and everything that lives. She even expressed consideration for flies in her book, as she wrote a story about a mean spirited boy named Bill who was cruel to his pony, and was once caught pulling the wings off of flies in a window sill. God knows, I’ve killed some flies in my day, but I don’t torture them. Hell, the other day, a bee landed in my beer and I helped the poor drunken fellow out to recover. Of course, it’s illegal to kill bees in Germany, anyway.

We’re already up to chapter 14. I’m determined to introduce Bill to this story, once and for all. I don’t think he’ll be sorry. I feel lucky to have such a patient and kind husband, who doesn’t mind indulging my idiosyncrasies and letting me read to him. The chapters are pretty short, which is a nice thing. It makes it easier to stop. I have read this book so many times, yet it never gets old. It truly is a great story. In its day, it helped change people’s attitudes about animals and how they are treated. Sewell’s commentary about “bearing reins”, which were used to force horses to keep their heads high, even led to their use being banned in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Besides reading books from the 19th century, we might also venture out today, since I’m not contagious anymore. I do still have a slight cough, but cold weather will be upon us before we know it. What I’d really like to do is find a nice hike to a waterfall, like we did when we lived near Stuttgart. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have too many near us. On the other hand, we didn’t really have any near us down in BW, either. We were just more willing to go out, because there wasn’t a pandemic going on. Germany’s rules have loosened a lot, but we’ve kind of lost the desire to go out as much anymore. And now, I can’t see COVID as an abstract threat, because I just got over it myself.

I’m also still working on reading Revenge, but I expect to be done with that book very soon. I look forward to dishing. In the meantime, below is a link to the abridged Kindle version of Black Beauty I’m reading. It’s only 60 cents! If you purchase it through the below link, I will get a pittance in commissions from Amazon. 😉

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