Pet Move of the Month: Moving a Pet Family During a Pandemic
There are so many logistics to consider when moving your pets internationally. You want to make sure your furry friends are in the right hands and that those you've hired to help really care. When Ben, dad to Elmer, Piglet, and Lady Cooper, found out they were moving to Amsterdam he shopped around. "I really put you through the mill before hiring you," he admitted after his move was completed. And that's okay! We want to make sure we're the right fit and you feel comfortable trusting us.
After bringing on PetRelocation, the COVID-19 pandemic turned this family's move plans upside-down. Their move was derailed by four months, but every step of the way, PetRelocation was there. Now, the whole family is together in their new home. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it! That's why their incredible journey is our move of the month!
Tells us about your pets. How did they join your family/ what are their personalities like?
We adopted Elmer in 2008 when he was just a few months old. He’s an important part of our family. He’s a very sweet dog. We fell in love with him the moment we saw him. He’s now 12 years old and while he’s lost some of his youthful energy, in some ways for the better, he’s still young at heart and just as goofy as ever.
We adopted Piglet and Lady Cooper a few months after losing a cat who’d been with us for a decade. We wanted a cat again and were advised to consider two kittens because it’s a very different experience than raising one kitten. So we did. While Piglet and Cooper aren’t related, they were raised together since before we adopted them at just a couple of months old. We had some difficulties raising them at first since they were found in a kill shelter and Lady Cooper in particular seemed to have a serious deep trust of people. Piglet, being a bit younger, took his cues from Cooper but he came around much faster and has a much more extroverted disposition.
When you found out you were moving abroad, did you initially have concerns about moving your pets?
Yes, of course, we had concerns! Just the initial thought of putting your dog and cats on an airplane, in the cargo hold, and flying them to another continent is enough to cause a panic attack.
What made you decide to hire a professional pet shipping company?
Of the various reasons, chief among them was the complexity involved. Most notably, we were concerned about the veterinary requirements, US State Department requirements, the EU requirements. All of it was daunting. And the more research we did the more we realized how delicate that entire process really is - how one missed deadline, or one missing document can end up putting your animals in a sort of diplomatic pet limbo. That seemed like a nightmare scenario. Moving overseas is hard work —very hard work! We wanted to minimize potential risks and problems. So choosing to use a professional pet shipping company was an easy decision and one that paid off much later.
Cats famously are not fans of their travel crates! Do you have any tips for crate acclimations for your kitties?
Yes, indeed! This was one of my biggest worries, frankly. For me, crating the cats even for a quick trip to the vet causes anxiety. I know it's stressful for them, but I swear it's more challenging for me! I worry about it for days —weeks even! The event of crating them is in and of itself like a scene from a Quentin Tarrantino movie.
That being said, our relocation was planned for April 2020 and for at least the prior 6 months we had their crates set up like luxury homes for them: cozy blankets, catnip, toys, whatever it took to get them comfortable with their crates. Turns out they loved the crates! We'd find them sleeping in them in the middle of the night or day. We also would move the crates on occasion, just put them in different rooms, closer to louder noises sometimes, just anything to keep them “comfortable” with change and to think of the crates as safe places.
Then our relocation was delayed for 5 months due to COVID-19. That gave us even more time to prepare them. While I don't think 11 months was necessary, it was certainly effective! The very night it came time to crate them for their big trip, at 4 am, the crating process was far less traumatic than it surely would have otherwise been. In fact, that night, when it came time to crate Lady Cooper, she immediately retreated to her crate - her safe place. Piglet was a bit more challenging but even he went, on his own, to his safe place when it came time.
You did some shopping around before you decided to hire PetRelocation. That’s very smart! What made the difference for you?
We spoke to a couple of other companies but PetRelocation was the only company that seemed to focus on helping us feel good about the process instead of just trying to close a deal! One company in particular just sort of treated our quote process with such haste that it simply turned us off from them altogether. Still, though, we wanted to be sure that PetRelocation was the best option for us. So, we pressed PetRelocation for the opportunity to speak to a couple of customers. That, ultimately, is what made the difference — speaking to a couple of actual customers who’ve been through the process, twice, in the case of one customer we spoke with.
Your move was scheduled for late March, but then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. How was PetRelocation able to assist you in this crazy time?
Yes and I'm getting panic attacks just remember how our plans went off the rails! The PetRelocation team was outstanding through all of it. First, we had to wait for the airlines to start flying again. Then we had to wait for the borders to open up to our class of visas. Then, there was an embargo on live animals to navigate too. It was one complexity after another. This resulted in three very frustrating false-starts. Each time, PetRelocation was fast, communicative, and (most of all) patient. When we finally got the green light and were spurred to action, the team at PetRelocation was able to move just as quickly and accommodate our plans in what might have been the only opportunity we’d have.
Alexis was your move coordinator. What did you find to be the most valuable part of her handling your pets move?
When everything went off the rails, due to the pandemic, Alexis was proactive with us at a time when everyone was in something of an information void. No one really knew what was going on with flights, borders, or really much of anything! Not having to chase Alexis down for information and not having to follow up with her because of radio silence went a really long way for us.
Relocation coordinator, Alexis (and Marty)
The other thing was her patience. We were high-strung at that time (as everyone was!) but she was easy-going while also being sensitive about our situation. PetRelocation had already earned my respect and the pets hadn't even seen an airport yet! Our decision to use PetRelocation felt validated already. We knew our pets were in good hands and that when it came time to get to show on the road were going to be taken care of.
When it was finally moving day for your pets, how did you feel?
To make a long story short, when that morning came, and I was up at 4:30, I had everything in order. The cats went right into their crates, on their own. It wasn’t as seamless as that sounds, but suffice it to say I didn’t have to handle them at all. I was prepared, but ultimately Cooper just went right into her crate, and Piglet made his way into his crate eventually, thanks to a small squirt gun I had handy.
Once they were loaded into the van, and I had a moment to chat with the driver, I felt a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. When they drove off, in the chill of that early morning air, I felt proud of them. I don’t know why, but it was as if they too had been through a lot to get this moment, a moment I’d envisioned with equal parts excitement and dread. Here it was, the moment at hand, and all that worry seemed so pointless.
The move took about 24 hours door to door. My wife had traveled ahead of us. Elmer was delighted to see her upon delivery and he made quite a scene with his barking and howling when they were reunited. The cats were exploring their new flat a couple of hours after the arrival. It was amazing!
Now your pets are with you in your new home! How long did it take them to adjust after their long journey?
Yes, as we speak Elmer is next to me on the couch, Lady Cooper is contemplating a nap in the same room and Piglet is already napping. The cats really surprised me. All they knew was a shelter and our home in North Carolina, surrounded by wildlife. I was worried they might not take to this environment, but I couldn't have been more wrong! And with Elmer, he loved the country in our old home with three acres to call his own. I thought he was going to be sad here in an apartment in Amsterdam, but he is the happiest we've seen him in a long time!
Animals are so much more resilient than we realize. My wife and I agree— this experience seemed to have bonded the animals to each other as if they'd all been through something together. Do you know what the frustrating part about that is? We'll never know their secrets! We often ask them "did you meet other cats on the plane? What were they like?" We never get any answers.
What advice would you give pet parents beginning to plan their move with their pets?
The most important thing is to prepare the animals as soon as you possibly can. The entire experience was flawless, in part because of PetRelocation of course, but also due in large part to our preparing them. The animals, especially the cats, had several months to get comfortable with their crates. To consider their crates as their safe place.
The other thing would be to just keep them to their routine until the last moment. Even though we were delayed for 5 months, we kept their environment as static as possible, which is hard to do when you’re selling your possessions and otherwise packing others. Their food bowls, water bowls, sleeping and napping spots, their routines, all of it — just keep it the same until it’s not possible.
Your pets don’t understand what’s going on but they take their cues from you — your energy is what informs their behavior. The tone and the pitch of your voice, the speed at which you walk through a room, all of these things communicate something to your pets so the most important thing, I believe, while you manage your own anxieties and dread and excitement and thrill, is to be mindful of how that rubs off on them. But the most important thing, in the swirl of everything going on in a major relocation, since it’s so easy to, is to continue showing your pets attention, affection, and love.
Well, we have to agree with that last piece of advice! Thanks so much for sharing your story. PetRelocation is thrilled we were able to provide you with peace of mind during a stressful time. We hope you'll keep up updated!
If you're planning your move and have lots of questions (who doesn't?) let us know! We'd love to help you feel more comfortable on your family's upcoming journey.