Relocating to Singapore..the First Time

Singapore Airlines operations at Singapore Changi.

Image via Wikipedia

In 2006 we moved to the other side of the world.  First stop – New York, then Singapore via Frankfurt. A new adventure. It was a big move – first time in Asia for my husband and first time flying for Blackspot. It was going to be a long flight and a lot of prep work.

All in all it was an easy move. The Singapore website at http://www.AVA.com.sg was informative, easy to navigate, and the pre-approval was definitely a huge weight off my shoulders. Having resigned from my job, my schedule was completely freed up to devote to the move. It was just a matter of organization, and starting early.

This move was simple – two people, one dog, a suite of suitcases, and the rest DHL’d. But add on kids, multiple pets, tricky timelines, etc then using a relocation agent may be the way to go.

Tickets, Kennel, Crate
The first thing we did was to book our tickets and to secure an air-conditioned kennel at the quarantine centre for our dog. Having that settled, we started looking for the right crate. Singapore Airlines has a formula for figuring out the right size. We are lucky that our dog was already crate-trained when we adopted her. But if you dog isn’t, best to get a crate early enough to let them slowly get used to it. The worst is to rush it, making a dog forever fearful of the crate.

Getting a crate ready means making sure the water bottle works and food trays are fitted. We also made labels with pictures of our dog, flight information (flight number and itinerary), and a blurb “from” my dog. This helps people relate that it’s not cargo but a real life animal, more than the ‘Live Animal’ stickers do.

We lined the crate with an absorbent pad under layers of old towels.  On the day of the flight, we just threw in a sweatshirt we had slept with for a week. We hoped that our scent would be comforting on the long flight, in the darkness of the cargo hold.

Flower Essences and Diet
To prepare her emotionally, we started her on Bach Rescue Remedy. She continued it on her flight, through the 30-day quarantine, and until we settled into our new apartment. This flower essence is great for the nerves, very calming.  Never drug a dog for a flight.

We also switched her to Science Diet, the brand the quarantine centre used at that time. Changing your dog’s food abruptly can cause upset stomach and diarrhea. It made sense to do ahead of time, not only to avoid unnecessary stress at the kennels but also to make sure she didn’t react badly to this brand.

The Flight
We had an early start that last day. We fed and walked her, giving her time to digest before the flight.  We finished prepping the crate by taping a small bag of food, a bottle of water, and an extra leash to the top. Her favourite kong was inside to keep her company.

The journey was smooth but not without its worries, the biggest was a leaking water bottle. We were relieved that the Frankfurt ground crew checked on her and refilled the bottle. The airline staff were fantastic. The crew read the crate labels and talked to our dog as they took her away for loading. The flight crew were very obliging when we asked them to check with the captain on our dog’s status.  We wanted to make sure she was onboard with us, and that the captain actually knew there was a live animal. Throughout our long flight we got regular updates.

In Singapore
Alex (from The Pet Hotel) met us at the airport. He was in charge from that point on. We weren’t allowed to see our dog until she had been inspected by AVA and transported to the quarantine centre. We passed Alex her favourite treats and another toy, a way to let her know everything was okay. We waited anxiously to see her but were happy to hear that she was fine. A little quiet and no doubt confused but happily ate the treats.

Quarantine Centre
Our quarantine period was spent in both the old and the new centres. We were lucky that the caretaker at the old centre took a real shining to our dog and paid her lots of attention. The old centre was, well, old and while we were sad to say bye to the caretaker, we were happy to have new facilities. And it was new, and untested. The dog doors were too heavy for small dogs to use and too small for big dogs to pass through. Even our medium-sized dog had trouble lifting it, having never used a dog door before. She even cut her nose on the rough edge of the metal frame. We ended up taping that flap up onto the wooden door and taping a towel to make it the new flap.

Quarantine Period
We visited our dog every day with visiting hours. We took her out to the walking fields for the allowed 15 minutes.  The rest of the time, we just sat with her, brushing her, petting her, playing with her.  I even learned Tellington Touch to help her cope with the anxiety.  Since we got her, she’s never been boarded, the last kennel experience was the SPCA.

They say that it’s a lot harder for the owners than the dogs. It sure was heart-breaking for us whenever we had to leave, with her face pressed up against the window watching us go. Confused. As days passed, fewer owners came.  Some had started work, like my husband.  Some, the staff said, felt it was too difficult for their dogs.  Some probably thought it was too far. It was far.

As I sit here writing this post, my two dogs are sprawled out in bed. Thinking back on our first Asian posting, it seems like ancient history. Since that first experience, we have taken our dog to Hong Kong, adopted a second one, and relocated with both back to Singapore. Years full of memories that we treasure.

For some people, those on short assignments or those with sick or elderly dogs, relocation with their pets may not be the best option. We are glad that we never had to make that choice.

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