Friday, December 9, 2011

Chopper Christmas

Every year I have a Chopper Christmas. During the weekend before I fly across country to be with my family there is a special day just for Chopper. He opens gifts, I let him eat people food for breakfast and we go on an outing or a long walk. The first year I had Chopper though I flew him across country with me. This is a story of that Christmas.

Almost immediately after I adopted him in March I began to research how to get him to Pennsylvania for Christmas. I learned about the acceptable crates that could fly (not the one we had already bought), the paperwork needed (lots) and cost. (At the time it was $100 to fly him each way. The new crate was another $100. The cost for the flight has gone up a lot since then.)

One of my big concerns was weight. Chopper was a 9 month old 43 pound puppy when I adopted him but he kept growing. And growing. And growing. Despite the assurance of the vet that he would "just fill out a little." The airline we were flying had a 100 pound weight limit at that time BUT that included the dog and the crate. Chopper was weighing in at over sixty pounds back then. I was buying his crate online and trying to figure out how much they weighed. There was not a lot of information on all the crates available. Finally I found one that said it was 30 pounds. That left me not a lot of wiggle room for Chopper to keep growing. I cut back treats to keep in at under the weight limit. (He is now somewhere between 70 and 78 pounds so if the weight limit was still in place we would be in trouble.)

Next there was the hassle of getting the actual flight. The crate had to be big enough for him to stand up and turn around in so we ended up with a pretty big crate which therefore did not fit in the loading door to all planes. My parents live closest to the airport in Harrisburg, PA. But none of the planes that flew in had big enough doors. Not to mention there were no direct flights there from LAX. So Chopper and I had to take two flights to get to Philadelphia where my parents picked us up. Sheesh.

Then there was weather to worry about. If it was below some temperature on the ground or predicted to be where he was flying to he couldn't go. TH is meant having a deposit for Christmas at somewhere he could be boarded just in case the temperature got too low and stressing out the whole week before about whether or not he would make it on the flight. And the the added stress that once I got him to Pennsylvania would I get him back?

I enlisted a friend to drive us to the airport in LA in my SUV that would fit the crate, Chopper and my luggage and the cart. The cart is this awful thing at my office that has a pop up handle that I borrowed because I wasn't sure the crate would fit on the carts at the airport. After all that Chopper had to ride in the crate in the car, which he was not happy about. This did not bode well for the airplane ride. In the twenty minutes it took to get to the airport Chopper cried and ripped to shreds the airplane piddle pad that was in his crate. He then refused to go potty once we were at the airport. Meanwhile my friend was hungover and texting her boyfriend every three seconds. I took the cart and the crate with the dog in it and she took my luggage. The elevator in the parking lot however only fit me and the cart. I got us in and when it was time to get out we got stuck. I couldn't turn the cart in there. When I did turn the cart the crate tipped over and got stuck between the wall of the elevator and the cart. Chopper gave me a look from inside that crate right then that said "What are you doing to me?" I pulled it together and got him back on the cart and after riding up and down only one extra time than was necessary got the darn thing rolled out.

Now all we had to do was check in.

The lines at LAX at Christmas time are awful. Doesn't matter the day or time. This happened to be a weekend so even worse. There was no special line for large or unusual objects (which dogs and crates fall into) so I was directed to wait in the regular line and have my friend wait with the cart on the side. When it was finally my turn and the dog came rolling up next to me the airline employee was not too happy with us. She tried to pawn me off on someone else but I told her this is where I was told to go (I was not going to get in another line). So we had to lift the crate and dog on to the scale (he passed) then put more stickers on the crate (even though I had pre-purchased all required stickers ahead of time) that said "Live Animal" all over them then fill out more paperwork (because the dog did not have a reservation it is first come first served so you have to be early but not too early or they won't take the dog). After all that we headed to TSA.

Now for as unfriendly as the airline lady was the TSA guys were super friendly. They had me take Chopper out (we tried one more time to make him go potty) and they checked inside the crate. And then we put him back in. At this point Chopper had had a tranquilizer but he was still on complete alert barking at things and whining in the crate. One of the rules with the crate is that you have to tie it with cable ties so the dog does not escape. I had ties but the TSA guys assured me they would take care of it. So they rolled Chopper away. He screamed the whole way.

The next time I saw Chopper was at the layover with the crate coming out of the plane. I never saw the crate go on the other plane so I was a little nervous if he would be in Philly with me when I got there.

I had instructed my parents to bring scissors so we could cut the ties off and free Chopper upon his arrival in Philly. After asking numerous people where the large items/dogs come from we were instructed to wait at an elevator. Not to get in the elevator - just to wait at it and the "items" would come. After awhile the elevator doors opened and there were three crates (and no person) inside. Two were tiny little puppies with big curly ribbons on top - no doubt someone's Christmas gifts and then there was screaming, whining Chopper in his giant crate. Without any ties. Luckily for me Chopper is more apt to stay in a crate when he doesn't know someone then try and flee. The piddle pad (that had replaced the one he had chewed) was in perfect condition. I took him out to go potty and nothing. See the airports were all surrounded by sidewalk. No trees, no bushes, no grass, no dirt. Chopper doesn't potty on sidewalk.

Then we disassembled the crate and loaded everyone in the car. I was worried about the two hour drive back coupled with the long plane rides without peeing. At the last minute I saw some pine trees and dirt and ran him over and he relieved himself.

Christmas was great. He got lots of presents. He boarded at the vet's for the night when we went to NYC. Then we had to leave again.

The experience at the Philadelphia airport was the exact opposite. The airline lady was super nice (he didn't' get weighed) and she wasn't annoyed about the paperwork or anything. The TSA guy was another story. He made me take Chopper out of his crate. Ok. Then he told me to "make him jump up." This dog had just had a tranquilizer and now knew what was coming so he wasn't in the best mood. "Jump up?" I asked. "Yes I need to see his stomach." I guess in case Chopper was trying to smuggle something back to California. "Can I lift him up?" "That's fine." He looked at his belly. I guess he passed that test. Then he inspected the crate - he didn't' comment on the prime rib bone from Christmas dinner my mother insisted he needed to fly back with. Then we had to put the cable ties on. Turns out that one tie wasn't enough to reach around the crate and the door of the crate so I had to put two together. I tried to get my mother to help me and the TSA guy said she couldn't touch the crate. Sheesh. Again they wheeled him off and he went screaming all the way.

Upon arrival at LAX there was more screaming and crying until he was released from the crate (this time we really did need the scissors). We were both glad to get home that night.

So yes it was a lot of work and super stressful but it was great to have him with me. The down side was that it didn't snow that year in Pennsylvania until after we left and he didn't get to see the snow. For now we are happy having our Chopper Christmases and lending our crate to a friend whose dog has flown back to the East Coast a few times. He keeps chewing through the cable ties and last year bent the gate open and broke his tooth so I think he's staying home this year too.