Moving two cats and a 5-month-old puppy from Ohio to California (as well as two adults) is not without its challenges. Unlike your household items and furniture, you can’t simply shove them into a shipping container and call it a day. Well, you can, but that would make you a psychopath. You may consider driving. You may find yourself thinking, “It’ll be fun! We’ll buy a Subaru and make a road-trip out of it.” On paper, it’s the storyboard for a great car commercial. In reality, not so much. Though your adorable and vivacious 5-month-old yellow lab loves car rides, both of your cats absolutely hate them. Your curmudgeonly 7-year-old cat feverishly tries to dig his way out of his crate while your 2-year-old tabby floof (technical term) let’s out long, pitiful cries one after another while peering at you through the bars in her crate. All of this crushes your soul and will to live. A 36-hour cross-country trek is looking less and less likely, especially since you can only sedate cats for so long before putting them into a coma. So, air travel it is.
After some careful researching, you discover that United Airlines advertises a PetSafe program that guarantees to “…get your cat or dog where they need to be safely and comfortably.” First things first, you must sign a stack of paperwork in blood. While you’re grateful that United takes such thorough precautions to ensure your pets’ safety, you don’t believe for one minute that it has anything to do with your pets’ actual well-being and has everything to do with bad press coverage and being sued. However, you comply because your options are limited.
During the entire process of registering your puppy and two cats to be flown with you from Ohio to California, United will send you multiple emails every day reminding you that you have a shit ton of paperwork to submit and that at any time they can cancel your reservation, which is super helpful and not at all stressful. The paperwork they like to remind you daily that you have to submit can, ironically, only be submitted at very specific times. For example, United will badger you every day, sometimes twice a day, demanding that you submit your pets’ health certificates immediately or you’ll be stuck in Ohio forever. However, you can’t actually submit the certificates until you’re at least 10 days out from the flight. So, when you’re still 12 days out, your inbox will continue to scream at you that you haven’t completed an absolutely necessary step that you can’t actually complete due to United’s own time restrictions, and the panic sets in hard and deep. Neat!
Next, you must pack up all three animals and take them to the vet. If you’re lucky, your husband will be at work so you get to take care of this all by yourself. You will be scammed into buying the puppy pheromone collar and cat pheromone spray the vet pushes on you since United has a strict policy against sedating your pets. The vet will give you the aforementioned health certificates United has been harassing you for, and after you’ve scanned in and uploaded all three to the PetSafe portal — along with pictures of the travel crates, the crate dimensions, photos of your pets that meet United’s specifications, and a copy of the “I understand I’m not allowed to sue United” paperwork — you’ll receive confirmation that everything is all set and pending approval. However, you’ll also receive another email informing you that you have to email all of the above mentioned paperwork to PetSafe directly. Fearing you will not get approved unless you submit everything again, you begin another process. This is also when the boob sweat begins. You read the instructions carefully and see that the email attachments have to be under 2 MB, which is literally impossible even when you compress everything into their own zip files. Your cleavage is now so sweaty it’s pooling in your bra. You get the attachments as small as you can, hit send, and pour yourself a giant glass of wine even though it’s only 2:30. The next day, PetSafe will call you and ask why you bothered emailing them all of these things when you’ve already uploaded them to the PetSafe portal, to which you will stammer, “I was just doing what the emails told me to do.” The woman on the end of the line will sigh and tell you that you’re fine (no, you’re not), and that you just need to make sure to arrive at the cargo area on time the day of the flight.
It’s the morning of travel! After spending the past 13 hours cramming what few things you still own into a shipping container and being awake for 24 hours, you must now transport two exhausted adults, two very full suitcases, one 40-lb puppy, two terrified cats, and all three cumbersome travel crates to the cargo area of the airport. If you do not know someone with a very large truck, you’re options are pretty much restricted to renting a U-Haul or ordering a caravan of taxis.
Once at the cargo area, you must now hold your breath as they process all of your paperwork at a glacial pace and check your animals to make sure they look okay to fly. United’s policy stipulates that your pets cannot seem too anxious to fly (pawing at crate, aggressive behavior, excessive barking, etc.) but also can’t appear to be sedated. While the United cargo employee who clearly hates his job begins inspecting your pets, you pray that your puppy won’t be her excited puppy-self and lose her shit when he approaches her crate. You also watch in fear as he checks the cats, who have both managed to shrink themselves down to half their normal size and are cowering in the back corners of their crates with eyes the size of saucers, feeling certain they now appear out of it and will not be approved for flight. Teetering on the cusp of a complete mental breakdown, all three eventually get the green light to fly. Next, they are loaded onto a motorized cart and driven out of sight while you and your husband make your way to the terminal. This is when the vomit-inducing anxiety sets in that you have left behind your fur babies and won’t see them for the next 6 hours, and their safety is now in the hands of complete strangers. Huzzah!
As promised by United’s PetSafe program, the pets are loaded onto the plane last, right before takeoff. From your seats, you and your husband can watch as your first cat’s crate is loaded onto the conveyor belt, followed by the second, and lastly followed by your puppy. They are all on board, and you breathe the tiniest sigh of relief. Your 5-hour flight takes off shortly after that, and you try hard not to think about your beloved pets’ wide-eyed faces, feeling certain they are all wondering what they have done wrong to deserve such punishment. You’re not crying, but that’s only because after being awake for 28 hours straight, you simply lack the energy to do so.
When you arrive in California, as promised by United’s PetSafe program, the pets are deboarded first. Once again, you watch as the crates are unloaded. First your puppy comes down the conveyor belt and is loaded into the PetSafe van. Then…hold on…what’s he doing. Oh fuck, they’re driving away! “Wait, there are two more,” you and your husband scream, your faces crammed into the tiny oval window. Another employee chases after the van and flags him down, and the driver swings back around. Phew! Next, they unload the first cat’s crate. Then your second cat’s crate begins its decent down the conveyor belt. But wait, the guy unloading the crates has turned his back. He’s not ready for it. No one is watching and her crate is almost at the end of the belt! “Oh my fucking God, they’re gonna drop her!” you both scream…again, and the rest of the plane is now visibly uncomfortable due to your panicked beating of the airplane window. You watch helplessly and in horror as two employees turn around just in time to catch the crate from falling off of the conveyor belt. Checking to make sure you haven’t soiled yourself, you see them load the last crate into the van and watch it drive away. You and your husband collect your carry-on items and last shreds of dignity, and deboard the plane while the rest of the passengers give you a noticeably wide birth. Alas, all four-legged creatures have made it safely and happily to their new home. The humans are a little worse for wear, but that’s pet parenthood for ya.
Pro Tip: When flying your pets across the country, get yourself some sedatives and wash them down with an in-flight cocktail. It’s the only way.