Back to Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Skypark night panorama Singap...

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After a stint in Hong Kong, with a second dog in tow, we headed back to Singapore.

Luckily Singapore had changed its import and quarantine requirements since January 2010, which now allow qualified dogs to avoid or minimize quarantine. Coming from Hong Kong, if our dogs tested positive for the rabies antibody, they could bypass it entirely. The labs required that the tests be done at least one month after but within one year of the rabies vaccination.  With the timing, Creamy could take the test right away but Blackspot needed another rabies shot. As it turned out, both tested positive, much to our relief. And I’m sure, the dogs’ as well.

Leaving Hong Kong was much easier, having the dogs travel as excess baggage. It was quite a sight, I’m sure – two carts full of suitcases and bags and a dog crate each. Maneouvering these heavy trolleys was difficult, threatening to overturn at every corner with throngs of people pointing (and yes barking) at us.  Comedy in motion, but a full celebration as we looked forward to returning to clean air and fresh grass.

In our experience, finding a dog-friendly apartment in Singapore was usually not an issue.  It’s a temporary apartment with dogs that was a little more difficult. Only a few serviced apartments took large dogs but their prices were ridiculous. While we were away, Singapore had become a very expensive to live in.

We took this opportunity to rent in a new area. Before we left Singapore, we stayed at a friend’s in River Valley.  We enjoyed the riverside walks with Blackspot and the restaurant and bar lifestyle at night. This time we stayed in the CBD.

It may seem strange to stay with two large dogs in the business district but the walking routes are actually fantastic. Lots of green spaces and pedestrian walks around Marina Bay Sands.

Other walks include the Esplanade Park, Boat Quay, or a complete loop over the bridge, past Marina Bay Sands, and back to our place.  Pre-dawn walks was a great way to explore the CBD, without the normal work crowd and traffic. The Christmas decorations were still up, another excuse for pictures of my dogs. We even got lost in the labyrinth of the city centre, my sense of directions obscured by the dark.

We only really felt we were in the city on our afternoon walks, when the streets were full of suits. Most went about their business, while some stopped to smile. Many were simply confounded with fear, doing the back-and-forth dance undecided whether to run from the dogs or freeze in place. I had somewhat forgotten this fear of dogs, living in dog-friendly Discovery Bay, nicknamed Dogs and Babies (most people had either one or both).

We weren’t the only people who thought it was a great area for people and dogs. Creamy met her first friend in Singapore, another Golden Retriever. They would chase each other, roll on the grass, and wrestle, two golden balls in rough but friendly play.

With all the green spaces, Marina Bay was good for the girls.  With all the restaurants in the vicinity and my husband’s office close by, coordinating the dog’s evening meals with going out for the night for us was easy.  Despite it all, we were starting to miss the feel of a neighbourhood, with a more natural nature. As I sit here writing this post on our back patio, Creamy is lying by my feet. My windows are not closed to shut out the traffic noise. Instead we hear song birds and lingering raindrops on our awning and we feel the lightness in the air and a gentle breeze after a short downpour.

Relocating to Hong Kong

A 12 segment panoramic image of the Hong Kong ...

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Relocating to Hong Kong was quite an event. Short distance does not equate an easy process. The actual paperwork was no problem. A little bit more paperwork just means a little more legwork.

What made this move more difficult? I was still working. My husband had already relocated. My dog had to travel cargo.  All three points meant more time but time was not as free. In the chaos I even forgot my dog’s annual boosters but as a result of the delay, my husband returned to celebrate Christmas and then we flew out together. It turned out to be a blessing.

The biggest differences about flying my dog as cargo (and not using a relocation agent)?

1) Checking in early. We had to check in at the cargo office much earlier. This made a four hour flight into one very long day.

2) It’s a lot more costly. It cost us under $300USD to fly her as excess baggage from NY to Singapore. Flying her cargo from Singapore to Hong Kong cost more than $2K SGD.

3) Once she was inspected by the AVA at the airport cargo area (not easy to find), her crate was secured by tamper-proof tape which could not be removed. This meant moving a 86 pound dog in an oversized crate (none in her size was available!) in and out of a van taxi, more than once. So I was lucky that my husband was flying out with us that day. I certainly could not have done it without him.

Our taxi uncle didn’t know where to go and drove around in circles for quite a while, looking for the AVA office. If the crate had been the right size, it might not have been as frustrating and awkward to maneouver it in and out of the taxi van, the AVA office, and finally the cargo bay. The crate was even too big to fit through normal doors and had to be taken around the back. Of course a relocation agent would have taken care of all that. It is funny now. Not so much then.

Once we landed in Hong Kong, the Discovery Bay taxi van my husband had arranged picked us up and we headed out to the cargo area to look for our dog. The Customs Officer was away. We had to wait until he came back but he made the inspection very quick.

Where was our dog? In her crate, all alone in this huge echoey warehouse. Our silent ruminations and worries were shattered by the sight of an approaching forklift. We couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous overplay of her arrival. A crate that was being carried around by two men just hours earlier was now on a forklift, not even a trolley.  We were more than thrilled to see her, to say the least, having wondered where she was and how she was all this time.

The upside? No quarantine. Just straight home.

Relocating to Singapore..the First Time

Singapore Airlines operations at Singapore Changi.

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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.