A Tale of Two Kitties

14 Dec

Baxter with sooty feet after investigating the fireplace in our new home

Baxter with sooty feet after investigating the fireplace in our new home

Lulu curled up on the biggest softest spot she could find

Lulu curled up on the biggest softest spot she could find

I’m happy to report that Baxter and Lulu have survived their epic journey from Linthicum to Herzliya Pituach seemingly unscathed. The short version of this story is that we had to deal with massive amounts of incompetence and inane bureaucracy to bring our kitties to Israel. But they did arrive, one day later than we did, and are happily settling into their new home. For the long version of the story, read on.

We’d already had one fiasco on Dec. 8, our original departure date, when our cats were not allowed to depart. We rescheduled our departure for the following Tuesday, Dec. 14, booking the same flights for the cats and for us. I’d had to get a new health certificate for them as well as a new USDA veterinary certificate. I’d faxed all forms to three different numbers and gotten confirmation and a green light from the veterinary office at Ben Gurion Airport. We stayed at a hotel near Dulles Airport to assure we’d get to the cargo facility on time. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty.

We arrived at the cargo facility around 8:30 and had to wait an agonizingly long time while a woman ahead of us checked in her four-month-old golden labradoodle puppy for the same flight to Newark that Baxter and Lulu were scheduled to take. Already my stomach was churning with anxiety as we waited our turn. When finally M., the Continental clerk, began to check us in we were greeted with the cheery news that Baxter and Lulu’s flight might be delayed due to gusting winds.

M. took a long time to check Lulu and Baxter in, even though it should have been a no-brainer. All details were the same except for the departure date. We didn’t leave the cargo facility till nearly 10:00. Guess it was a good thing that Baxter and Lulu’s flight was delayed. It was originally scheduled to leave at 10:30. As we left, M. informed us that the flight before Baxter and Lulu’s had been cancelled and he would call us to let us know when their flight would depart.

The delay in checking in at the cargo facility dashed our plans to get breakfast before checking in to our flight. It was scheduled to depart at 12:25 p.m., so check-in would normally begin at 10:30 a.m. and the cut-off time for checking in would be 11:45 a.m.

As a result, instead of making a choice between eggs, oatmeal or pancakes, we were faced with a different dilemma. When to check in for our flight? If we knew the kitties were definitely on their way to Newark we’d go right ahead and board our plane. Then we’d all make the connection at 4:00 p.m. from Newark to Tel Aviv.

Brad dropped me off at the terminal with all our luggage, returned the rental car then met up with me at the terminal. We waited and waited for M. to call. Finally, nearly 11:00, I could wait no longer. I called him and he reported sheepishly that the flight had already left without the cats on it. I was stunned nearly speechless. I asked him, “How is that possible?” He gave me some sort of gibberish answer then said he could put them on the next flight. But that would mean they would not make the same connection as us to Tel Aviv and would arrive separately and too late for customs in Israel.

Forget talking to M. We got back on the phone and called Continental’s Live Animal Desk 24-hour number to try to straighten out this mess. They have a toll-free number that is inevitably engaged when you call. I was on hold for at least 20 minutes, fuming as I listened over and over to a recorded message boasting about Continental’s Award-winning PetSafe Program, before I was able to speak to anyone.

At least I can say that Continental admitted they goofed. But the only solution was for the cats to go out on Wednesday afternoon for arrival on Thursday morning. Baxter and Lulu would have to stay overnight at the kennel facility at Newark Airport. We would proceed with our flight as planned and arrive on Wednesday morning. We’d simply have to go back to the airport on Thursday morning to pick them up.

Oh but we should have known by then that there was nothing simple about this journey. We were stymied every step of the way.

Decision made, we had to rush to check our bags in. Bags checked, boarding passes in hand we raced to the gate. We had about 1 hour before the flight departed. We discovered that flights to Tel Aviv have an additional level of security. We were required to go through another security checkpoint that was set up just before the departure gate. It was nearly 11:30 and we hadn’t eaten a thing all day. We grabbed a quick bite to eat (sesame seed bagel and cream cheese) before going through the Tel Aviv security gate. We walked through a metal detector, had our carry-on bags scanned and were asked to stand spread-eagle while a security guard passed a metal-detecting wand over our bodies.

We were in line to board the plane when we heard our names announced and were asked to approach the desk. Secretly, I wished this meant we would be told that the cats had boarded their plane after all. But no, the attendant who checked us in had failed to note some of our passport information.

Finally, we boarded the plane and were on our way. The entertainment system was impressive. Each seat has its own private screen and access to nearly 200 movies, dozens of TV programs, computer games and several music channels. The supplied ear plugs were rather uncomfortable so I stuck with reading my book during the flight (Reservation Road). The meal was simply god-awful, some sort of chicken dish. I couldn’t tell what type of cuisine it was supposed to be (Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern??). As usual, I didn’t have much success sleeping on the plane, despite wearing ear plugs and eye shades and using my neck pillow.

We arrived in Tel Aviv about an hour late, around 10 a.m. The sun was shining and the temperatures were mild. Brad’s colleague N. picked us up at the airport and took us directly to our house. On the way we discussed the fiasco concerning the cats. N. called Continental in Tel Aviv on our behalf only to discover that, if the cats were arriving unaccompanied, they needed an additional document to allow entry into the country. A certificate that is issued by the State of Israel and usually requires 2-3 weeks to obtain. There was also a question as to whether there would be someone available from the veterinary office to check the cats in. The decision was made that the cats had to remain at Newark until we could ensure they would be allowed into the country upon their arrival. Back on the stressmill.

N. dropped us off at our house where we tried to relax. In the meantime, she continued to make calls on our behalf (she speaks Hebrew) to Ben Gurion Airport, Continental, the head veterinarian for the State of Israel…whoever needed to be contacted. Later in the day, N. picked us up to go out to dinner at a local restaurant. The cat situation was far from being resolved. We used N’s phone to call JoAnn in the States. JoAnn reported that she spoke to Continental and that the cats were due to fly out Wednesday afternoon for arrival on Thursday. Oh no! We updated her on the latest and said the cats should not fly on Wednesday due to the Israeli bureaucracy surrounding importation of animals.

The next morning N. called Continental to discuss the cats’ arrival only to discover they had been shipped after all. They’d been at the airport for two hours and if someone didn’t come in half an hour to pick them up they would be shipped right back to the States. Egads!! No-one had called to let us know they were there. And apparently there was a breakdown in communication between Continental in the U.S. and Continental in Tel Aviv.

N. made some more quick phone calls while Brad raced to the airport with another colleague to try to retrieve the kitties. There he was bounced back and forth from one bureaucrat to another, all of whom greeted him with pronouncements about how they could not possibly help in the situation. He even met the vet that had examined Baxter and Lulu and found them to be healthy and fit. All told, Brad’s first two days of work in Tel Aviv were spent making arrangements for our cats to enter the country.

I’m not sure of all the details of Brad’s experience at the airport on Thursday. Thinking the cats would not arrive until Friday at the earliest, I had accepted an invitation to go on a day trip to Jerusalem and was oblivious to the latest developments. I arrived home late that day, feeling sad that the kitties were not yet with us.

Brad greeted me at the door with the news that the cats would not arrive on Friday. Then he shook his head exclaiming “The bureaucracy in this country is unbelievable.” I was crushed, thinking I’d surely have to wait till Sunday before seeing the kitties. Seeing my distress, Brad could hold the suspense no longer: Brad had conquered the bureaucrats and Baxter and Lulu were home! And they appeared to be happy. And that made my day.

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