Andrew and I have five children. All of them are four-legged and furry. We have four spoiled-rotten house cats and a very large, extremely slobbery Saint Bernard dog.
They are very much a part of our family and it was never an option to leave them behind when we came to Belgium. However, being an expat with pets affords some interesting challenges.
When you are an expat with children, it goes without saying that they will be moving with you. However, it was impossible to convince Andrew’s company of the importance of our furry family members.
While they wouldn’t have hesitated to pay the expenses for kids and shipping all manner of toys, supplies and belongings, there was no way they were agreeing to ship four cats and an XL dog.
So our first hurdle was expenses. Believe me; it’s not cheap to travel with your pets.
First, there is the cost of shipping the carriers themselves. If you are traveling with a very tiny pet … say a Chihuahua or a hamster, they can be taken aboard your flight as carry on. Our cats, however, were well over the weight restriction and had to be sent as cargo.
This means that every carrier is charged as an extra piece of luggage. The cost of shipping our dog was somewhere along the lines of purchasing a very nice home theatre system.
He was only able to join us recently, now that we are settled in a home big enough for him and therefore had to fly solo. An unaccompanied flight is, of course, more expensive.
Then there is the logistical nightmare of changing planes with four carriers containing four slightly drugged, very unhappy cats.
I was in charge of pushing the impossibly small cart with the leaning tower of cat crates through the Toronto airport. Tired, stressed and bedraggled, I had to smile and retell our story as 402 people asked why on earth I was flying with four cats.
Once we arrived at our destination, there were the inevitable dealings with customs. Our pets are now tagged, micro-chipped and have been to the vet more times in recent months than ever before in their furry little lives.
They have more documentation than most ancient works of art. Now that we have arrived in Belgium, our pets must be registered with our commune and new vets must be found.
Despite the expense and the hassles, there are things I am looking forward to, now that my pets are in Europe. Animals get more freedom and respect here than in North America.
In Canada, you would be thrown out of a shop or restaurant if you brought Fido with you, unless of course he was a guide dog. Here, as long as your pet is well behaved (or you are obviously very rich), he can join you for a meal or help you do your shopping.
I have dined with a restaurant cat who visited each table to greet the patrons; I have shopped in high-end department stores with a parade of well dressed pooches shopping with their ‘Mommies’ and I have been watched by the ever-present shop dogs as I perused the wares in boutiques.
As an animal lover, I am excited to have more opportunities to share experiences with my furry family.
When you are a trailing spouse, you leave behind many things: home; friends; family and most of all, familiarity. Having my pets brings me comfort and reassurance.
After all … how can you be unhappy with a purring fur-ball in your lap and a drooling chin on your knee?