dogs, rants, travel

Pets on jets… and more dumbness from the peanut gallery…

Featured photo is of our sweet Arran, calling bullshit…

Well, hello Thursday… nice to see you, even if it’s the day I do my most dreaded chore of vacuuming. I actually can’t complain too much about this week thus far. It’s gone by rather quickly, and without too much ass pain. Yesterday, Arran had his latest chemo treatment, and I got a big box of Easter chocolates from Neuhaus, our favorite chocolatier. And tomorrow, Bill comes home for the weekend.

I have had some irritations, though… self-inflicted ones, I guess. Yesterday, I read a fabulous article in the Washington Post about people who team up with others and charter planes so they can travel with their pets without risking commercial flights. I think it’s a great idea, and sometimes it can even be less expensive than using a pet shipper.

I think it would be even better if there was a US based airline that did a better job moving animals, so that there might be fewer horror stories about flying with dogs in the news. That way, maybe fewer people would be so ignorant, and I might not get so annoyed by their comments.

I read the article when it was first posted, and the first few comments were about the obscene privilege of the wealthy, and how they should be taxed more. Those comments were obviously written by people who didn’t read the article before responding. The people quoted in the WaPo article I linked (and unlocked) above weren’t wealthy people. They’re people who need to be able to move their pets and don’t want to put them in the cargo hold of airplanes. From the article:

For travelers with pets, the options for long-distance hauls are limited and often stressful for both species. Commercial airlines place tight restrictions on airborne animals, especially ones that are too large for the cabin and must fly in the cargo hold or as freight. Owners pay hundreds of dollars to transport their pets by plane, plus more if their supersize dog requires a customized crate. For example, to fly her dogs from Germany to the States last year, Jamie Klepper contacted several pet-shipping companies for prices. The lowest quotes she received were $12,000 for Lenny, her 16-month-old Leonberger, and $5,000 for Bailey, her “exceptionally tall” golden retriever.

Passengers with brachycephalic dogs contend with even fewer choices because of a widespread ban on snub-nosed canines, which are prone to breathing issues. Adding to the anxiety: On occasion, airlines deliver animals to the wrong address. In December, British Airways flew Bluebell, a Lab mix, from London to Saudi Arabia instead of Nashville. Some animals fall ill or worse. Bailey, the Lab, suffered bloat, or a twisted stomach, soon after landing at JFK. She survived, but not all do. According to Transportation Department statistics, 11 animals died on U.S. commercial carriers in 2019, and six died in 2020.

While the horror stories regarding dogs on planes certainly aren’t the norm, when something does happen, it inevitably gets in the news, and people proceed to freak out. It never fails. And cue the comments about how people who fly with pets are irresponsible, negligent, or cruel, and how flying with animals should be illegal.

When the story about Bluebell ran in December, I blogged about our experiences flying with our dogs. I won’t lie. It’s stressful to have to travel by air with dogs, but the VAST majority of dogs who fly come through the experience just fine. But, thanks to the awful stories about dogs who have died or been traumatized by flying, it’s gotten a lot harder and more expensive to be able to travel with animals. That presents real consequences for people who need to be able to relocate worldwide with their pets.

One guy made a snarky comment about how flying animals “traumatizes them for life”. As an American who lives abroad in the military community and has flown with dogs three times, I get so tired of those kinds of flippant, vaguely accusatory comments by people who have absolutely zero experience traveling by air with dogs. They’re mostly made by well-meaning animal loving people who read and react to the news too much without rational thought. They don’t employ their critical thinking skills. If dogs being injured or dying on planes was the norm, would the horror stories be news? Wouldn’t air travel with dogs have been outlawed decades ago?

So I wrote something along the lines of, “Please. The vast majority of dogs come through the experience of flying just fine.” Naturally, I got challenged by a few people, including one who quoted the last line of the second paragraph from the post.

According to Transportation Department statistics, 11 animals died on U.S. commercial carriers in 2019, and six died in 2020.

My response? Out of how many?

I didn’t add this additional thought to my response, but I could have also asked how many of those cases involved dogs that already had health problems or were elderly? How many were drugged before they flew? How many of the dogs were snub nosed, flying in hot weather? Most dogs who fly will survive the experience with no ill effects at all. And most of them would rather fly so they can be with their families, rather than be rehomed or dumped at a shelter.

Hours later, the woman came back and shamed me for asking that question. She wrote something like, “Does it matter? Any dog who dies on a plane is too many!”

Her point was, because of those few outlying cases, flying with dogs is inherently unsafe, when it’s really not. If it were, flying with dogs would have been made illegal many years ago. Outlawing flying with pets is not a good solution, because it will ultimately mean that a hell of a lot more dogs will die while waiting for good homes. The people who react loudest to the horror stories never consider that unintended consequence, do they?

It’s the same as the well-meaning folks who want to outlaw horse and carriage rides in cities. They don’t seem to consider what will happen to the expensive horses who no longer have jobs, and will ultimately lose their homes, because their owners can no longer afford to keep them. Instead of focusing on making conditions better so the work or travel is safer, some of these idiots just want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They don’t see the big picture, and when you try to point it out to them, they act like you’re the asshole!

I love my dogs. I’d rather spend time with my dogs than most other people. When I’ve had to travel with them, I’ve obsessively prepared, and yes, I’ve read ALL of the horror stories. The first time we flew with dogs, I was a nervous wreck. I certainly didn’t want to put them through hours in a crate in a baggage hold. I had visions of certain disaster. But what was the alternative?

That first time we flew with Flea and MacGregor, my husband was in the Army and we were ordered to move to Germany. My staying in the States while Bill went to Germany wasn’t an option, and we couldn’t bear the idea of leaving our rescue dogs behind. So we took a chance… and everything turned out fine. It was just a few hours on a plane.

We landed in Germany, and I immediately heard Flea’s distinctive beagle bellowing, which led me right to him and MacGregor in the baggage claim area at Frankfurt’s airport (which is equipped with a huge pet lounge, no less). They were examined by a vet, who told us they needed bigger carriers next time. We let them out of their carriers; they both took raging pisses; and then they spent two happy years with their people in a country where dogs are welcomed and adored!

Flea and MacGregor flew again in 2009. Flea had prostate cancer, but he still made it through the experience fine, in spite of a dramatic day’s delay. You can read about that in my other post on this topic.

In 2014, when we moved back to Germany, the rules were stricter and we weren’t coming on military orders. We booked with Lufthansa, which is probably the best airline for flying with dogs. Once again, no problems whatsoever. Y’all have seen pictures of my dogs. Do they ever look traumatized?

We lost Zane in 2019, but Arran has had eight happy years in Germany. He adores Bill, and had been rehomed more than a few times before he landed with us. Yes, it was a choice to move to Germany, but at the time we made our decision, Germany was the only place where a job offer was on the table. We don’t regret our move, either. It’s worked out great for us.

Would it have really been preferable for Arran to be rehomed again, less than two years after he was adopted for the second time (his first adopters returned him), just to avoid putting him on a plane for a few hours? Arran is a very sensitive dog who seems to take rejection personally. He and Bill are the very best of friends. I know Arran isn’t sorry we took a small risk and flew him to Germany, where he will almost certainly die, due to his cancer. He won’t have to fly again.

The woman who got all snotty when I asked her how many dogs flew safely made some comment about how she thought I was being too flippant about the risks of flying with dogs. She resented my tone– claiming that I was being “rude” for dismissing her concerns.

Well, you know WHAT? I resent the idea that because I moved my dogs from the United States to Germany, I’m some kind of cruel, irresponsible, mean-spirited dog hater! Nothing could be further from the truth! Moreover, the people who claim that flying with dogs is soooo dangerous don’t seem to consider that there are risks in literally EVERYTHING you do every day!

Yesterday, I took Arran to the vet for a chemo treatment. It was raining and snowing yesterday. We could have had a car accident on our way there and been killed. And yet, most of us don’t think twice about driving with dogs. I’ll bet a lot of the people hand wringing over flying with them don’t even use doggie seatbelts or crates when they drive! Or they let their dogs go outside off lead. Or they let their kids harass their pets to the point that the pet reacts negatively and ends up being taken away by animal control.

Stop and think about this for a moment. There are thousands of military and government families in the United States. A lot of them will end up moving abroad at some point during their careers. Some of them won’t have to move overseas. Should all of those people forego pet ownership because they might be ordered to move abroad? Do people ever stop and think about how many pets in shelters would LOVE to be adopted by those families, and would happily endure a few hours on a plane for the chance at having a good home?

How about the dogs who have been rescued from laboratories or meat markets in other countries? Would people, like the commenter on yesterday’s WaPo article, prefer us to just let those dogs languish? Not long ago, I reviewed a book about a woman who adopted a golden retriever from Turkey. Thanks to her, two dogs (her mom also adopted one) have moved to the United States– and they both arrived by aircraft, safe and sound. My Noyzi comes from Kosovo, where he was found on the streets of Pristina. If and when we have to move back to the States, should I just leave him in Germany, where locals already think Americans are shitty pet owners because so many don’t take their pets when they move?

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that flying with pets is always dangerous and traumatic, why don’t some of these folks stop and think for a moment about the many thousands of animals over the years who have flown on planes completely without incident? Seriously– every year, literally thousands of military, government service, and international business families move with their pets. The vast majority of them make the moves with no issues at all.

Yes, there are some legitimate horror stories regarding pets flying on planes. But outlawing flying with dogs isn’t the answer. Dogs and cats can fly safely, and they should be able to do so affordably, and without any clusterfucks. It should be something we expect from the airlines. Instead of calling the owners irresponsible, why not put the blame where it belongs… on the people who fuck things up and send dogs to the wrong cities, put them in overhead bins (seriously, WTF?), leave dogs on hot tarmacs, drug them, or fly with snub nosed breeds in hot weather?

I know Arran is glad we weren’t scared off by the horror stories…

Yeah, this dog is SO traumatized by his hours on a plane in 2014. NOT.

I swear, the longer I live outside of the United States, the more I think a lot of my compatriots are actual morons.

lessons learned, movies

Attack of the “Little Brains”…

This morning reintroduced me to the concept of an “attack of the Little Brains”. It’s an idea I learned about in an old movie. “Little Brains” are not very smart. They are dogged by fear, and they don’t want to take risks. Sometimes your “Little Brain” can get you into trouble. And sometimes, an “attack of the Little Brains” owned by others will hold you back in life.

Years ago, I watched the movie, Defending Your Life, for the first of many times. It’s a very funny and thought provoking film by Albert Brooks. The film was made in 1991 and starred Brooks, Meryl Streep, and Rip Torn. Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a wussy guy who dies accidentally, and lands in Judgment City, a “weigh station”, of sorts, before the next life. He finds himself having to “defend” his most recent life on Earth. In Daniel’s case, there are nine specific days that are going to be examined. These are days when he didn’t evolve the way he should have. During his most recent life, Daniel was supposed to work on being more courageous and taking more personal risks. But, on nine specific days, he failed to act with conviction.

Daniel dies in a brand new BMW.
Bob explains to Daniel what’s going on, teaching him about “Little Brains”.

Daniel suddenly died after buying a luxury car. He was hit head on by a bus, as he fiddled with the CD player in his brand new BMW. In the above scene, Daniel is talking to Bob Diamond (Torn), an advisor who uses 48 percent of his brain. Bob explains to Daniel that, like all other earthlings, Daniel is a “Little Brain” who only uses 3 percent of his brain. Daniel’s life’s purpose was to learn to use more of his brain, so he could then graduate to a more challenging life. But, because it’s not clear that Daniel succeeded, he now has to “defend his life” in a trial. The session is much like what an earthling would expect in court.

Bill and I have both seen and enjoyed this film. We are both fans of Albert Brooks, who is hilarious and brilliant, and makes wonderful movies that make us think. We were having a conversation as we were eating breakfast this morning. I was reminded of a specific scene in this film. I can’t find the clip on YouTube, but here’s a description…

Daniel and Bob are sitting outside eating lunch. Daniel’s roasted chicken is very appetizing and appealing, and it obviously tastes really good. Bob’s lunch looks disgusting. Daniel asks Bob what he’s eating, and Bob tells him he wouldn’t like it because he’s a “Little Brain”. Daniel wants to prove Bob wrong, so he insists on trying the food. Bob smiles and says, “You’re curious, aren’t you? Good, I like that about you!” He lets Daniel try it, and sure enough, it’s disgusting.

Maybe a little more brain power will broaden Daniel’s culinary horizons.

Bob laughs and says, “A little like horseshit, isn’t it?”. Then he explains that as people get smarter, they can manipulate their senses. The food tastes a lot different to Bob than it does to Daniel. Bob can appreciate the “shitty” tasting food, because he uses more of his brain. As a “Little Brain”, Daniel only wants what’s easy and obviously tastes good. He’s not ready to expand his horizons with something a little more challenging and complex.

Daniel shows that he’s not a total coward. He tries something new, even though it looks disgusting. His initial impressions turn out to be correct. But his advisor tells him that with a little more brain power, he can learn to appreciate more. Still, it’s inconceivable to Daniel that as a smarter person, he might enjoy Bob’s lunch more than his own.

I relate to this scene from Defending Your Life. Sometimes I hesitate to try new things. On the other hand, sometimes I am keen to take chances. When I met my husband, I took a big leap. I was never one for dating. I first met Bill in a chat room. It was a chat room for “adults”, so to speak. We met at a time when it wasn’t that common to meet people offline after encountering online. This was especially true, given the specific type of chat room where we met. The first time Bill asked me out, I was very reluctant to say “yes”. But when we were still chatting a year later, he asked again. I was then more sure it would be a good thing to do. Twenty years later, it’s clear that I was right to take the risk.

Our marriage has not been without its challenges. I’ve written many times about Bill’s ex wife. She doesn’t directly harass us anymore, but she still hangs out on the fringes. We hear about her antics from Bill’s stepmother, sister, and his younger daughter. Sometimes, it amazes me that Bill ever got tangled up with his former wife. They have little in common. Then I realize that he married her because she love bombed him. He didn’t dig deep, but just accepted the artificial sweetness and convenience of what she served up to him. He listened to her sob stories about #1, and thought he could rescue her. When she complimented him, he believed every word. And worst of all, he didn’t think he could do better.

In Defending Your Life, as Bob and Daniel are finishing lunch, Bob asks Daniel how much he gave to charity. Daniel immediately gets nervous and defensive. He says he gave a lot of money to people on the street, but never got receipts to prove it. Bob reassures Daniel that there’s no right or wrong answer to his question. Then, he wisely points out, “There was one person you were really cheap with, over and over again. I wish you had been more generous with him.” Daniel asks who that person was, and Bob says “You.”

I thought about how Bill spent almost ten years of his life trying so hard to please someone else. He worked swing shift in a factory, even though he was a career Army officer with an international relations degree. He tried to be all the things she said she wanted, but his efforts always fell short. She ridiculed him for the things he enjoyed, and shamed him when he wanted things for himself. And she repeatedly told him he would never find another person to be his wife. For years, he believed her, and accepted her paltry and unsatisfying “Little Brain” offerings. Clearly, neither of them were satisfied.

Then one day, she dramatically presented him with an ultimatum. She boldly did this in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She thought she knew what his reaction would be. Hilariously, she was wrong. Instead of romantically fighting for her, Bill accepted her proposal to divorce. It was not the response she had anticipated. Yes, it was scary, but it was the right thing to do. He moved on to another world. She’s apparently still stuck in the previous one. To keep this on the foodie theme, here’s a literal example of how their lives diverged. He’s eating graduate level cuisine in Michelin starred restaurants. She’s still eating convenience foods out of a box.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s time I took more risks, too. I have my own “attack of the Little Brains” to deal with sometimes. Does this mean I might finally do something different with my life? I don’t know. Maybe it means something as little as finally seeing a doctor for the annoying discomfort in my gut. Perhaps I’ll change some bad habits. January is the time for doing that, right? I could lose some weight… exercise more… take a class in something. Maybe I could just drive my car somewhere besides the vet’s office. Or try to make a new human offline friend. The possibilities are endless.

Anyway, I might need to watch Defending Your Life again. It’s a great film! I also love Albert Brooks’ movie, Lost in America, with Julie Hagerty. Brooks seems to be preoccupied with the idea of taking risks and dealing with the consequences… or not. Sometimes it’s good to take a risk. You never know where life will take you, if you can move beyond your fears.

I love both Defending Your Life and Lost in America… both are about taking risks.

Well, it’s time I ended this post. Bill is taking the day off, since it’s MLK weekend. I wish we were going on a trip somewhere, but we’re not. Oh well. It’s the off season, anyway. But I could do with a trip to Spain or something. Or maybe Morocco… I’ve never been there. Maybe 2023 is when I’ll try something new.

Ex, by the way, seems to be hoping for the same…

Bwahahahaha… it’s all I can do to stop myself from commenting that Bill and I have been to Scotland four times, and Edinburgh twice. Meow.