I was reminded recently that my most traumatic travel experiences have invariably involved our dogs and my lame attempts to move them in and out of the US. My efforts to traffic pets internationally has inevitably devolved into a canine comedy of errors Cesar Millan himself could not have foreseen or circumvented, even with his dog-whisperer, leader-of-the-pack techniques at rehabilitating problem pups and their even more problematic people.
The story below may not be typical of the challenges I’ve faced, since in this singular instance I am NOT the problematic person per se, and my Maltese, who Sara’s dad has affectionately nick-named “The Yapper,” is not the big mouth in question.
Here’s what happened.
Well over a year ago, I took my Maltese to our Haitian vet. I AGAIN needed travel documents to bring Lucy back into the US–this time to celebrate the Christmas holiday back home among family and friends.
I’d managed the re-entry paper work a number of times from more than one international location. I assumed this would be easy.
That was my first mistake.
You see, unlike most globe-trotting animal lovers who leave their pets at home when traveling, Sara and I see fit to move the zoo with us where ever we happen to settle. Clearly this is not always the sanest of decisions. (See “An unfortunate incident involving the international trafficking of canines and what I haven’t learned since then.”)
I should have known it didn’t bode well for the appointment, when I arrived at the office to find the vet standing outside in the driveway raging at 3 male members of his staff—face reddening, arms flailing. Since my French is bad and my Creole even worse, I had no idea what he was saying and no sense what set off the tantrum. (See “A Tale of Miserable Failure: moanings of a second language learner.”)
I was unsure how to handle this initial incident and asked Junior, my driver, if I should go ahead and enter the compound. I thought there might be some Haitian etiquette about how to handle incidents of public raging, but Junior only shrugged, the international “I don’t know.” So, I reluctantly ignored this show of veterinary angst and walked past it into the office.
This may have been my second mistake.
At any rate, the doctor raged for at least 10 minutes before entering with seeming calm, offering a “bon jour,” and proceeding to examine my freshly bathed Maltese. When he was finished, he motioned me into his office for the paperwork part of our visit—generally a 3 document process: an international health certificate, an immigration form for the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), and a “Certificate for Domestic and International Airline Travel.” The doctor happily generated the health certificate but refused to sign the other two documents.
“These are not my forms!” he insists.
Confused, I agree, “No they aren’t. One is a US immigration form and the other is generated by the airline.”
Again—“These are not my forms. I will not sign. You do not need. The health certificate–all you need.”
This time I try to respectfully disagree, “Actually, every time I’ve returned my dogs to the US, I’ve needed these forms.”
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. You do not need these forms.”
“Well, my experience has been otherwise,” I try to reason. “The airline and immigration have always asked me for these forms. You signed them for me when I was here in October.”
“These are not my forms. I will not sign.” He has degenerated into a ranting-raging specimen of veterinary vengence—full-on arms flailing, his tantrum apparatus in high gear—pissed off on speed.
“Well, just to be on the safe side, would you please sign them?” I try the pity appeal.
“These are not my forms.”
Slams the health certificate and invoice on the desk and walks out of the room. I call Richard the then head of Sara’s security department, the one we called Papa Bear, because we fully believed Richard could fix just about anything—as evidenced by a track record of previous salvation attempts delivered. Score several for the home team!
To my disbelief, however, Richard’s dressing down of the dear doctor accomplishes nothing. The doctor stands, tears the health certificate into pieces and shouts,
“I do not like your attitude!” exits stage right.
I think I’ve been dismissed.
Richard and I have lost this round.
Junior drives me to another vet. I’m crying on the phone to Sara the entire way—fully believing, irrationally so, that the second vet will tantrum with equal earnest and I will be stuck in Haiti with my dogs—
Since, I’ve not fully recovered my composure upon arrival, Junior accompanies me into the office of vet number 2, clearly thinking I may need his moral support, if not his driverly expertise in this document getting endeavor. However, Dr. Calixte, actually, is lovely—an older Haitian gentleman, who speaks little English. But he’s confused.
“Doctor not at his office?”
“No, he was there, he just refused to sign my documents.”
“Ah, you do not have appointment?”
“No, we had an appointment at 3 o’clock,” I clarify. (Since we have arrived unannounced at his office, the vet, perhaps, assumes we’re in the habit of randomly raiding veterinary offices in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.)
Ultimately, however, Dr. Calixte understands enough to intervene.
And, to be honest, I don’t know exactly what was said, or how I acquired the sympathetic, document-signing approval of this dear doctor, but after several exchanges between Junior and the Dr. Calixte in Creole and several more with Papa Bear Richard on the phone—in French—my new veterinary ally examines Lucy, and agrees, with a grandfatherly bed-side manner, to generate a health certificate and sign the appropriate forms when Junior returns with them later.
To make a long story short, Junior drives me home; I generate new forms for the vet; Junior takes the forms to Dr. Calixte’s office; Junior returns an hour later, amidst monsoonal rains, with a damp health certificate and both the airline and USDA forms signed and stamped.
Junior is my hero—Dr. Calixte, a fellow champion! Round two—victory for the home team!
I should clarify that the ultimate winning in this game came with our successful reentry into the US the following day and our safe arrival in Kentucky the day after that.
Sure it’s taken me more than a year to recover from this close encounter with vexed vet, but now I can at least recognize that there were comic moments during my not entirely friendly encounter with Dr. Wulff (his real name).
Clearly, his bark was worse than his bite!