Our little family of three is whole again!!! Three weeks ago now (wow…time is flying by over here!) AJ boarded a plane by himself in Virginia Beach to travel half way around the world to be reunited with his parents.  Bringing a dog overseas is a very trying process, especially when you do not speak the language of the new country.  Our journey began in February when AJ began the importation process by getting the FAVN rabies test, thus beginning his 180 day quarantine period.  He had to get a few more booster shots, another rabies shot, and there was a stack of paperwork to fill out.  Most of the stuff we were able to get done before we left California, but there were some requirements that had to be done within ten days of AJ leaving the United States.  The only breakdowns I had about moving to Japan involved getting AJ ready to fly.  I felt like every time we thought we had completed everything, another form or requirement made itself known.  Seriously….it was dramatic.  Initially we had planned on bringing AJ with us on the flight, but we didn’t know how long we would have to wait until we received housing in Japan.  Without housing, AJ would have to be in a kennel on a different military base until we were able to secure a place to live.  James finally convinced me it would be better if we left AJ with our parents, and shipped AJ later as cargo. It was tough convincing me, but I finally gave in, conceding that as a rescue dog, AJ probably shouldn’t spend weeks in a kennel without us.

When we arrived in Japan, we were told we could move into our house in two weeks, and I began to doubt our decision to leave AJ.  I called and made AJ a flight reservation, and was reminded that he could not fly if the temperature was warmer than 85 in any of his connection cities.  That would be difficult to pull off in June in Virginia, but I was praying for cool weather.  When I got off the phone with Delta, I was ecstatic!  AJ had a plane ticket and was one step closer to Japan! About twenty minutes later, I received a phone call from my mom saying Delta called and canceled his flight because we didn’t have a quarantine number.  I didn’t have that number on any of my paperwork, so I called the lady back and asked where I would find that number.  She recommended that I call the US consulate, but I wasn’t sure about that since military members have different requirements, so I decided to call the vet here.  I understand that the vet here is very busy, but they seem to never answer their phone, nor do they return phone messages.  I was phone stalking them, and I would have gone there, but we didn’t have a car, and it was over an hour walk from the train station.  I called and called and just began to get depressed about leaving AJ in the US.  Thankfully, I finally got through to the vet, and they told me to fax all of his paperwork to the Narita airport without his flight information.  Then, AJ would be given a quarantine number, and we could book his flight.  We faxed the forms to the airport and were told that they couldn’t give us a quarantine number until we booked a flight.  It was at this point that I really had a breakdown.

I decided to send the forms in with the flight we wanted him to be on, and crossed my fingers that it would work.  Thankfully, the Japanese customs workers are extremely efficient, and responded with a quarantine number within 48 hours.  So with that, we rebooked AJ’s flight and watched the weather like crazy. He was flying through Detroit, so the only city we really had to worry about was the temperature in Virginia Beach.  I didn’t sleep for two nights before he was supposed to fly.  I was praying the temperature would be low enough for him to fly, because if we didn’t get him now, we would have to wait until September.  To add to the stress of the situation, we had to figure out how to get AJ home.  We didn’t have a car, and neither of us had ever driven on the other side of road.  We had recently received our drivers licenses, but the class didn’t involve any driving, so really all we could do was read street signs.  We looked into taking the train into Tokyo, but that was going to cost us about $200 dollars, and we’d have to lug AJ’s large carrier through the trains with us.  We weren’t sure that we were confident enough to drive the 2 hours to Narita, but changed our minds at the last minute and decided we could do it!  The tolls round trip from the airport are around $80, so it was going to cost us half the price to rent a car and drive.  I rented a car, and practiced driving around base.  Thankfully, AJ departed as scheduled from Virginia Beach (Norfolk) and we just had to wait the very long 22 hours until he arrived.  I think the most stressful thing was not knowing how he was doing.  When friends and family are flying, they can call you from their connecting city, but AJ couldn’t call, and we just had to hope and pray that he made his flight and would show up alive and well in Tokyo.

James and I left for the airport four hours before his flight would land, to give us plenty of time to deal with traffic and to find the cargo section of the airport.  The airport is only 120 kilometers away (74 miles), but it takes over two hours to get there (on a good day with no traffic).  We also wanted to give ourselves time to find the Cargo terminal, since that is where AJ would be flying into and we had no idea where that was.  James navigated the whole way for me on the iphone, and I basically just stared straight ahead and let James be my eyes on everything.  It was a little stressful, as I had never driven before, and here I was merging onto freeways following signs I couldn’t read, but the anticipation of picking AJ up was greater than the stress of the situation.  We made it without getting lost, which was pretty amazing considering we can’t read any of the signs (despite our driving class!), and we found the cargo area pretty easily.  That’s when the fun began!  We had no idea where to go after we found the cargo area, and after giving us digital guest passes, the guards waved us on into a chaotic airport cargo facility that consisted of warehouses and office buildings and semis and hundreds of little cargo lifts driving every which way.  We stood at the corner for a few minutes contemplating how we were possible going to cross the road without being killed and looking in every direction for a Delta Cargo sign.  We spotted one, darted across the road, and tried to find someone in the office who spoke English.  It turns out that this wasn’t the Delta office, and that there aren’t very many people who speak English in airport cargo facilities.  After ten minutes of pointing to things and showing our paperwork, they realized where we needed to be, made a phone call, handed us a map, and pointed us in the right direction.  It was in a different warehouse with a bigger Delta sign.  I still haven’t figured out why this office had a Delta sign, but I realized it’s easier to not ask questions and just accept how things are around here.

They were expecting us at Delta, and handed us a map and a list of 7 steps we had to complete, not including the starting point in the Delta office.  We had to wait another 45 minutes for AJ to land so they could get the paperwork off of his kennel.  After we had the paperwork, then we could begin the process of going to all of these offices and getting forms filled out.  James tried to take a nap in the office, since he was working nights all week in order to pick AJ up, and I was too anxious to do anything, so the time slowly ticked by.  Finally, a man arrived with all of AJ’s files, meaning AJ was alive and well! 🙂 They went over the check list with us again and sent us on our way.  The first stop was the office we went to originally, and this time we had the forms they wanted.  So, they took some forms, and gave us more forms and sent us off to Quarantine Services, which was extremely difficult to find.  I was able to practice a little bit of my Japanese when we got lost. Sumimasen….Excuse me….and then I pointed at the form.  The guy was so helpful!  He jumped up and we followed him through a warehouse until suddenly we ended up in a nice little office that was Quarantine Services.  There, they made copies of our forms and gave us another sheet of steps (which this time was only 6 steps) that was in both English and Japanese.  That was extremely helpful, as we could now point to what we were trying to tell people, and they could read it! They sent us back to the IACT office, which is that first building we had stopped at, where we were supposed to give them more forms and ask them to get our dog.  When I saw AJ rolled out, I was so happy!  He was all smiles when he saw us and he was giving us kisses through his kennel.  He looked exhausted, but happy.

A warehouse member wheeled him into a quarantine room, and then left us there.  It was a small, cement room, with an inspection table and that’s about it.  We noticed that AJ kept licking his water bottle, and it was completely empty.  He was so thirsty, yet there was no water around.  Finally, a vet came in to check on him, and I tried to explain that he bites by using hand gestures. They understood, and when they cut his kennel open, they let me pick him up out of it.  AJ was so light….he only weighed 11 pounds, and had clearly lost a lot of water weight.  He clung to me, and I started freaking out about getting him water.  The vet scanned him to make sure he was the right dog, and then did a look over to make sure he was healthy.  I tried to explain that he needed water, but no one understood us.  Then suddenly the warehouse guy came back, and he and the vet began to have a discussion that escalated into an argument.  James and I were standing there trying to figure out what to do, and they kept going and going for almost 20 minutes.  They had made me put AJ back in his kennel, and I just wanted to get him water, and go on to the next step.  Then as suddenly as the argument began, it stopped.    The vet left and the warehouse guy took AJ and wheeled him out of the room.  We followed him until we got to another warehouse, where he gestured that they were putting AJ back into the warehouse.  I tried to explain to him that AJ needed water while James went looking for a vending machine.  He found one, but by the time he had gotten back, they had already taken AJ and kept pointing for us to go on to the next step, which was customs.  So we went to the front desk with the water, and tried to explain, but everyone kept pointing to the next step.  After 10 minutes of trying to get AJ water, we gave up and went to customs.

Customs went through all of our paperwork, and then asked us if we had completed the health inspection at quarantine.  We told them that is where we came from, but they told us we didn’t have the right forms.  They made some phone calls and told us we needed to go back to Quarantine Services and get the forms.  I think this step was lost amidst the arguments of the two employees, but we went back and got the right forms.  He was extremely apologetic, and rushed to get everything done.  I was just flustered that they had taken AJ away again, and he was in a warehouse stacked like a regular piece of mail.  With the correct form in hand, we went back to customs and filled out more paperwork.  They sent us to the diplomatic customs section, as we didn’t have to pay any customs fees since we were PCSing here.  After customs, we were sent back to the IACT counter with more new forms.  They looked over everything and then handed us a bill for 1900 yen.  We weren’t really sure what it was for, but we paid it.  As we were paying, the little man from Quarantine Services came running into the office, which made me panic, since we were sooooo close to taking our dog home. He had given us the original of a form, and he needed the original, so we just swapped forms.  He thanked us over and over again, and then ran back across the road.  Finally, after three hours of running around, AJ was wheeled out to us to be taken home! 🙂

They explained to us how much more time he had in home quarantine (56 days) and gave us more forms that the vet needed to fill out within 72 hours.  It was already after 8 at night, so we would get to drive home in the dark.  AJ drank almost the whole bottle of water, and passed out for the entire drive home.  Two hours later, we made it home, and AJ ran all around the house.  He checked out his new toys, put one in each room, drank his water from his new dishes, and made the backyard his own.  Then he crashed, and spent the next two or three days sleeping.  AJ was home, and our little family was whole again! That didn’t mean the paperwork was done, and on Friday, we rented another car and drove to the vet at Camp Zama to have his initial quarantine paperwork filled out and for AJ to have a health inspection.  The visit went great, and we were told he has to see the vet once a month until his quarantine period is over.  Everything was great until we tried to start the rental car, and all we heard was *click* *click* *click*.  Great.  We weren’t supposed to have animals in the rental car, and here we were broken down at the vet with AJ.  Thankfully, the rental car agency picked us up and didn’t say anything about us having our little poodle with us!  We are thrilled AJ is home and couldn’t be happier to have our little family whole again!