Sunday, September 22, 2013

Smudge's Little Red Book

Yesterday I began the process of trying to understand the steps it would take to get Smudge safely repatriated. I know, we have a good long time before we head back to our beloved Meiguo (13 months, 8 days, but who’s counting?), but I figured that if there’s one thing I learned in China, it’s the power of Murphy’s Law. If something is going to go wrong, it will, and at the least convenient time at the greatest expense.

Faithful readers will recall the expensive and elaborate process that it took to smuggle Smudge into the Middle Kingdom to avoid quarantine, a process that involved hiring a very expensive pet relocation company that gave us decent advice but not much else, flying to Seoul and staying overnight in a somewhat seedy pet-friendly hotel near the airport, flying to quarantine-free Tianjin and marching through immigration like it was nothing, and then driving (thank you, Mr. Dou) to Beijing in the Wall Street Journal’s car. And then locking poor Smudge in the bathroom. For the record, I believe she has forgiven me for that.

Here in Season’s Park, Smudge spends about 50 percent of her time under our Ikea armchair (where I’ve helpfully put a little pillow for her), 20 percent of her time staring at me (making me wonder if she is a spy), 10 percent of her time eating rather unenthusiastically, 10 percent drinking water from the toilet, five percent looking out at the Siberian magpies and pink-dyed poodles that pass by below, and 5 percent just doing that cat thing of staring off into space, preferably on my lap, even on days when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Getting her home seems slightly easier than getting her here, even at her advanced age of 15. I got all the details from the ever-helpful Mary Peng at Beijing’s International Center for Veterinary Services. In a free seminar, “Exiting from China with Pets,” she detailed the process of convincing China to let my kitty go (when it’s not entirely clear they even know she’s here).

First order of business, making sure she’s in good health. Mary told a scary story of a family she knew who had lived in Beijing with their beagle, had faithfully taken the beagle in to the clinic for his vaccinations, but had declined the blood work. With a week to go, they brought him in for his Chinese health examination to find out he had diabetes and the Chinese decided that he couldn’t leave in case his blood work was also evidence of other, possibly infectious diseases. The family left without the poor dog, who stayed with friends until someone in the family could come back and fetch him after his blood sugar got back to normal. Moral of story: Never leave things until the last minute, especially not in China. Plus, don’t get diabetes.

Since Smudge is elderly and has a toilet water addiction, I need to have her examined. So I’ll make an appointment, get her examined, and, at the same time, have the clinic insert a microchip in her shoulder (needed for departure from Beijing) and a rabies vaccination. The rabies test needs to be done within a year of leaving, so I’m waiting on all that until December of this year to be on the safe side.

I may have started feeling slightly panicky at this point in the talk, but I certainly seemed to have fewer problems than the young woman who wanted to bring her husky to Taiwan, which basically doesn’t allow anyone to bring in animals at any time, it seems, and especially not from the People’s Republic of China.

Which brings me to Smudge’s political affiliations. When she gets her rabies shot in December, she will be given a Little Red Book of vaccination records, otherwise known as the official Beijing Animal Health and Immunity Certificate. I don’t think she’ll be expected to quote from it, though.
After she gets all healthy and up to date on her shots, we wait until 7-10 days before our departure, when we have to show up at the “government-run Entry-Exit Inspection & Quarantine Bureau animal hospital,” a place that takes no appointments and that runs on government hours: 8:30-4:30, with a big chunk of time in the middle of the day off for lunch. No one there speaks English, of course, but Mary assured us that we could show up with our pet and they’d know what to do. Hmmmmm. If I had a kuai for every time I trusted that things would not go wrong, I’d be rich. I think I’ll bring a Chinese-speaker with me.

Assuming Smudge passes her tests, she gets a certificate for exit, which, with a “concierge service” costing about 300 RMB can be delivered to your home, allows her to leave.

That, of course, leaves one other wild card and that is the flight. We’ll need to make sure United will allow us to carry our cat in the cabin, because they’re one airline that doesn’t let you check the animal as “excess baggage,” which would mean they go in a special area of the cargo on your flight.  Instead, being the totally service-intensive airline they always are, United insists that if you’re not bringing your animal into the cabin, you must check your animal as unaccompanied freight, marked as “live animals.” You leave them overnight in some warehouse, and yada yada. I’d rather change airlines and fly through Pyongyang than do that.

So, if all goes well, we’ll get on that direct Beijing-Dulles flight with Smudge in the cabin, doing what she’s done on our Brussels sojourn and then coming here to China: looking up at me with doleful eyes and not making a sound.

Mary had a cat that wailed for four hours from Beijing to Tokyo, making her vow never to take a cat in the cabin with her again. Smudge isn’t that kind of cat. But I wouldn’t be surprised if having a microchip implanted in China, a little red book, and the habit of watching me around the clock means I’m actually bringing home a little red spy. I mean, what IS in that toilet water?

Always watching....

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