Just before Jon and I left for our road trip across Canada and the United States I came across a plea on Facebook from one of my favorite charities the Soi Dog Foundation, asking for flight volunteers to transport a couple of rescue dogs from Thailand to Canada. Since we already had tickets booked so we could attend my nephew’s wedding in Toronto, I contacted them via email and asked how we could help. They replied almost immediately and said they had two street dogs that had been rescued from the dog meat trade in Thailand, that had already been adopted by qualified people in Canada and all we had to was to transport the rescue dogs to their “forever home”.
I asked Jon what he thought and he said, “A couple of dogs, if it helps, sure no problem,” so I replied saying we would be happy to help and forwarded our flight details. The next day I got a new email asking that since we were flying Eva Air – Eva is a pet-friendly airline that allows people to transport up to five dogs as accompanied “baggage” – would we be willing to transport “a few more” dogs that they had also saved in Thailand? Without thinking to see if it was okay with Jon if we took some more dogs with us to Canada I wrote back and said, “Of course, the more the merrier!”
Well, long story short, it turns out there were seven more rescues, for a total of nine, that needed to be flown to Toronto and I had “volunteered” us without asking Jon. I decided to just confess what I had committed for us to do and luckily, because he is such a great person (he made me say that) after a little hesitation and maybe a tiny eye roll, he just laughed and said, “The more the merrier!”
The day before we were scheduled to leave, we flew from our home in Vientiane, Laos to Bangkok so we could meet up early with the volunteers from Soi Dog Foundation, get all of the paperwork so the rescue dogs could be transported and not have to rush for our transpacific flight to Canada, via Taipei, Taiwan. Just as we were getting settled into our hotel and about to go to sleep, we get an email from Eva Air saying due to Typhoon Soudelor our into Taipei had been delayed and we weren’t going to make our connecting flight. We checked online and instead of being booked on a new flight they were still showing us on the original flight; the one we were going to miss by hours.
Panic time! It is almost impossible to get in touch with representatives of Eva Air in Bangkok after hours. We tried calling the customer service number, “Sorry, our office hours … <click>” Since Eva is based in Taiwan we tried calling the Taipei, “Sorry, our office … <click>” Finally Jonathan got through to a human in Toronto who suggested that we could be delayed in Taipei for UP TO NINE DAYS! Big panic time! It looked like the worst case scenario was becoming THE SCENARIO. We were going to be stuck in Taiwan for nine days, with nine rescue dogs, AND miss my nephew’s wedding. We decided that there was no way we would get on the Taipei flight, responsible for nine lovely dogs, without some assurance of a reasonable connection that would get us to Toronto. Maybe we would be stuck in Bangkok, a place we know well and where the Soi Dog volunteers could look after the dogs, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about handling everything in Taiwan.
It was now 1 AM and not much else to do, so I sent a few urgent emails out to Soi Dog Foundation to explain the situation. After all, they were expecting to meet us at the airport in a few hours with nine dogs. Luckily, for some reason, Cristy at Soi Dog was checking her email at 1 AM and she started working her magic.
The next morning, and several phone conversations later, she had organised everything and we were on our way. Somehow she had managed to change us the and the dogs to an earlier China Airlines flight that would allow us to make our connection, but we were an hour from the airport and supposed to be on the international flight to Taipei in and hour and a half!
So we had the hotel call us a taxi for the airport while we ran upstairs to finish packing. We ran back downstairs, finished checking out of the hotel, got in the taxi and explained our predicament to the driver. I don’t know how he did it – well, actually I had my eyes closed most of the time – but, he managed to shave fifteen minutes off of the travel time, in heavy Bangkok traffic 45 minutes before the flight. We rushed to the check-in desk and were met by assistants from both Eva Air and China Airlines. We told them, “Don’t worry, the dogs are on the way, please wait. Please wait,” not really knowing if the dogs too were stuck in traffic.
I ran to the currency exchange while Jon paced and kept an eye on the counter and out front of the terminal for the Soi Dog Foundation truck. I had just arrived back from my errand when the rescue dogs; Dundie, Chernlong, Cosmo, Moose, Dream, Lina, Yang, May and Casper all arrived. There was still a lot of instructions and paperwork to go over while the clock kept ticking, but the dogs just sat quietly in their crates looking far more chilled about the long journey ahead than we were. Maybe they knew that at this point they were actually holding the flight just for them. Finally, all the new paperwork that arrived with the dogs – mostly veterinary and health certificates – was sorted and we were finally given our boarding passes. To make everything go faster a representative from China Airlines escorted us to departure immigration and screening. They closed the door right behind us as we went looking for our seats.
To make a long story short, after a four-hour flight from Bangkok to Taipei we waited a couple of hours and caught the original fourteen-hour Eva Air flight to Toronto. We hadn’t seen the rescue dogs we were transporting since Bangkok and we were a bit nervous while were waited at the special baggage claim, wondering how the journey was for them. After what seemed like an eternity they started arriving. Only slightly worse for wear and looking a bit bewildered, we checked them all, one by one, and Jon and I both counted all them at least ten times to make sure everyone arrived.
After we made sure everyone was there safe and sound we needed to somehow get us, our bags and nine rescue dogs to customs and immigration. Where are porters when you need them? We knew the new “dog parents” were waiting for their newly adopted “children”, but because all the baggage handlers seemed to be in hiding or avoiding us, Jon and I had to relay the crates, one by one, through the baggage hall to customs and immigration. Finally Jon and I had our passports stamped and there was only one more step before we could unite the dogs with their new mums and dads – the Canadian Customs official.
The guy at customs was the usual charming guy you’d expect to see at customs. “Papers,” he demanded! We handed over all the paperwork, “Are these dogs pedigrees?” He asked. “Er no, look at them, they’re street dogs, look” we replied. “Is there any value to them? Are you going to sell them?” he barked, no pun intended. “No, they are rescue dogs, they’ve all been adopted by loving new owners, look, this one only has three legs!” “Where is your import certificates?” “Uh, we were told we didn’t need them.” “I have to call the Customs Veterinarian. If you don’t have the import certificates I may have to deport them all,” and he leaves the station.
After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only about fifteen minutes, he returns and says, “This is YOUR lucky day. The vet said he doesn’t need to see them.” We already knew this, the Soi Dog Foundation really has their act together on this stuff, but after a flight literally halfway around the world, we were thrown off a bit. So, after deciding we need to pay $79 in customs fees (we understand this is usually waived, but we were warned some inspectors care more than others) the thick stack of forms was processed and we were on our way.
Except, we weren’t. Even though happily we were all now allowed into Canada, we still needed to move nine dogs, in crates, 20 meters from customs, outside the doors where the “doggie parents” were waiting. We couldn’t just shuttle them ourselves this time because it would involve moving back and forth from a secure area to a non-secure area. “Luckily”, now that almost all of the moving had been done, a porter showed up and within two minutes had everyone and everything outside the secure area by the arrival doors and ready to unite. For this “service” (where were these guys before?) we had to pay a $20 minimum “fee”. $20 for two minutes’ work! Hey, I’m in the wrong job and he expected a tip!
At this point obviously, we were the only people left from the flight. We opened the last set doors and we could see everyone waiting. There was a gasp of excitement, as all the families rushed to meet their new dogs. There were tears, it was all rather emotional. Some people had even brought us flowers and gifts for bringing their “babies” across the ocean. Dundie, Chernlong, Cosmo, Moose, Dream, Lina, Yang, May and Casper were finally safe in their forever homes.
If you’re interested in being a flight volunteer for Soi Dog Foundation or want to know more about this amazing charity, see www.soidog.org