Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Moving Overseas, Part 6

Today was a breakthrough because I view everything very differently than I did yesterday or three days ago, and because I made significant progress towards my goal. In fact, I made so much progress today that I even decided upon a tentative target departure week that I am working towards (I’ve even narrowed my departure down to three days within that week). But more about that later; let me tell you what I’ve managed to accomplish today.

First, I called my USFWS agent, Katherine, and I learned that I have my CITES permit (she gave me the CITES permit number, which I need to begin working with the USDA). The papers have to be signed by her boss and by his boss, and then mailed back to me — but I will have the permit in my hands by 30 October at the latest! Of course, I plan to call her next Monday to check on her progress and to find out if I need to arrange to have the permits sent by express mail, but it appears this part of the process is well under way. I was so worried that my application would be rejected as inadequate because I don’t have sales receipts for the birds (USFWS specifically requested sales receipts as a part of the CITES application), so I had her look over my application while she was on the phone and she said it was “perfect.” I was so relieved; this alone will cut down the time required.

While we were on the phone, Katherine and I had an interesting chat about a variety of topics. I learned that she has a master’s degree in wildlife biology and is a law student, so she divides her days between classes and work at the USFWS offices. I also learned that I am very lucky to have her as my agent because she was born in Bonn, Germany (the former capital of Germany, until the capital was moved to Berlin, which she tells me is not nearly as nice as Bonn). It turns out that Katherine grew up across the street from the executive director of the German CITES Authority, and is on a first-name basis with her. So even though Katherine claims she isn’t fluent in German (she came to the US as a teen), she maintains her friendships in Germany, which is lucky for me because she gave me the contact information for the people I need to deal with there. She says she will personally email the CITES officer (her former neighbor) to make sure the process gets started in Germany. In short, Katherine was incredibly helpful and was a gold mine of very useful information.

I then investigated the USDA site and found that the bilingual health certificate required by the Germans already exists as a PDF. This certificate says that I need to vaccinate my birds against H5 avian influenza, then test a blood sample from each bird within 7 days of departure to show they have developed H5 antibodies. Then, within six months of the original injection, I need to get each of them a booster shot (this will be after we’ve all arrived in Frankfurt) and that’s all! This is a far better scenario than what I’d been led to believe, so my next step is to contact my NYC veterinarian to make sure that he has enough H5 avian influenza vaccines on hand for five parrots so I can get this taken care of as soon as possible. As in, this week.

I then contacted the Albany USDA office. The veterinarian there talked to me a little bit, but sent me on to the USDA offices at JFK airport, where I talked with the port veterinarian about the tests, vaccinations and paperwork necessary to get the USDA health certificates. He agreed that I only need H5 avian influenza vaccines — no blood tests for Exotic Newcastle’s Disease or Psittacosis, wow! He recommended that I have the USDA health certificate paperwork endorsed 72 hours before departure, so I looked at the map and realized this is going to be an expensive trip. It will take roughly two hours each way by subway from my apartment, followed by a cab ride between the subway and the office itself to get my certificates endorsed prior to departure (no sidewalks alongside a highway). In short, this one step will take roughly six hours (if everything goes exactly according to plan) and in addition to subway fares, it will cost roughly $10-15 in cab fare. Unfortunately, the hours available for endorsing my certificates and documents is very limited (although I will make an appointment to reduce my wait time after I reach the USDA office).

I then investigated Lufthansa Airlines’ website because I had been told that they ship animals (and my USDA permit specifically states that I must accompany my birds on the plane). The information on their site was not very clear, so I called them and was informed by a very angry woman that Lufthansa does not allow passengers to bring birds on the plane. I pursued the topic, since the information on the website suggested that they ship birds as cargo (well, it says “animals” on the website and birds are animals), but this woman screamed into the phone that “Lufthansa does not ship birds!” I finally realized that I was mistaking Lufthansa Air Cargo for Lufthansa Airlines — can’t imagine why! I am still confused about the relationship between the two businesses.

So I called the air cargo people and learned that they do ship birds internationally but they do not deal directly with the public; they only deal with Animals Away, a pet shipping service who works with the public. But the woman I spoke with was a good sport (unlike the Lufthansa Airlines representative, who clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed!) and we talked about the permits that I already have and the paperwork I am completing. After our discussion, she decided that they would work with me without requiring me to go through Pets Away, but she and I will be speaking further about this tomorrow before any decisions are made.

So last, but not least, I am sure you all are wondering when my tentative departure dates are, so this is my plan: I will depart on a non-stop red-eye flight in one month, during the third week of November. My target departure dates are either 17, 18 or 19 — all weekdays. This way, I have a full business day at JFK to get the birds on their flight and to take care of anything that needs to be done at the last minute, and half a business day in Frankfurt to take care of paperwork and to pick up the birds (the flight I plan to book departs at 900pm — oops, 2100 — and arrives at 1100 the next day).

One month from now feels like a long time, and my goal is to get everything done in three weeks, but I know from experience how quickly time flies by, so I think I am cutting everything very close. But every time I start to worry, I think about how great it will feel after everything is finished and we all are in Frankfurt and the birds are fed. I already have planned to take a hot shower (it’s roughly 13C (55F) in my apartment right now, so I am fixated on a hot shower) and then I’ll collapse and sleep for three days, although I am so tired and aching at this moment that I can sleep three days, starting right now!

Comments

  1. #1 travelgirl
    October 14, 2009

    sleep well… with luck, you will spend thanksgiving in a place far away… :)

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    October 14, 2009

    Once you get here, you can start working on the German paperwork…

    Actually, it hasn’t been too bad so far. I managed to get my residency permit and tax card today, and the woman I spoke to didn’t speak any English. I think it helped that I knew which forms to wave at her.

    Now I need to find somewhere for us to stay.

  3. #3 Luna_the_cat
    October 14, 2009

    Well, yay!!!!

    So, why Lufthansa rather than KLM?

  4. #4 Taneli Huuskonen
    October 14, 2009

    Great news, Grrl! I’m happy for you and hope there won’t be any further essential setbacks. Fingers crossed. (It’s hrad to ytpe that wya, thuohg.)

  5. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    October 14, 2009

    thanksgiving? i have not celebrated t-day for most of my adult life, so i hadn’t even thought about that. but if everything works out according to this tentative plan, i’d say this coming thanksgiving will be the best ever!

    i didn’t know KLM ships animals .. will check today. i called Lufthansa only because it had been suggested that they ship animals — and they do, sorta (cats and dogs as carry-on). i learned that Delta also ships animals internationally, but only departs from Atlanta, which means i have to fly the birds there and have them placed on another plane for their trip to frankfurt. i am trying to get the birds on a direct flight (the flight is 8 hours from NYC) to cut down their in-air time and to prevent them from getting misdirected if they are switched from one flight to the next somewhere along the way. (London appears to be a common overseas switch point).

    i was surprised to discover that direct flights between NYC and frankfurt aren’t as common as i thought they would be. for example, if i want a nonstop flight, i am limited to Singapore Air. I haven’t been able to learn the details about the flight that the birds will be on, so Lufthansa may not be a direct flight, either …

    yikes, i need to call the guy making the shipping crate now! i am trying to get the birds shipped in one large crate that has five compartments (or six: one for their food, which means i have to ask the airlines NOW if i am allowed to ship food in a compartment rather than in a ziplock bag attached to the top of the crate).

    even though i feel much better about the entire process than i did last friday, i woke up this morning with a very nasty headache.

  6. #6 Gini
    October 14, 2009

    This sounds MUCH better than Moving Overseas Part 3!!

  7. #7 JPS
    October 14, 2009

    I’m glad to see things getting better for you. Will you keep blogging after you have moved to Germany?

  8. #8 "GrrlScientist"
    October 14, 2009

    of course i will continue writing my blog after my relocation! the blog, birds and books are the best things in my life (and i have plenty of room for my spouse as well!) so there is no way i could possibly give up writing the blog.

    i think my blog writing will get better since i have been in a holding pattern for awhile, but after the relocation, i will be able to return to “translating” scientific papers and to writing a weekly book review for the blog. i also plan to add at least one consistent series of essays (once weekly?), where i write about being an expat in germany. one thing that will likely amuse you is that i plan to take german language classes, which means that you all get to read what it’s like to be reduced to a blithering verbally-challenged child trapped in the body of an otherwise coherent and articulate adult.

    but the blog is the one stress-free thing associated with this relocation, although i do feel somewhat stressed because i’ve not been doing the writing for which i was invited to scienceblogs in the first place. but that will change after my life has settled down.

  9. #9 ER Doc
    October 14, 2009

    Outstanding news! This is really going to work!

  10. #10 Jeff Knapp
    October 14, 2009

    That is so cool! Wow. Congrats. Like I said earlier, you have a way of getting things done.

    One month and your nightmare ends. That is really something.

  11. #11 Firebyrd
    October 15, 2009

    I haven’t been keeping up with my bloglist the past few weeks, so when I saw the headline of this post, my heart just sank for you. I know you have no beliefs in a higher power, but the turn-around you described in this post as well as your caseworker’s connections certainly seem like a miracle to me with the way USFWS usually works. Importing and exporting CITES species is a process that can last /years/. Importing has the added difficulty of having to prove that the bird and its ancestors were all exported from the country of origin legally that adds to the timeframe, but the cogs of bureaucracy grind in both cases. There’s a person that used to be on a cockatoo list with me that had spent something like 5+ years working on getting some blue-eyed cockatoos into the country before she managed to get them.

    All that aside, while I’m disappointed it looks like we won’t be able to get you to come here to speak at the club I belong to, I’m so glad you’ve had such good things happen to you recently. Many congratulations on the marriage and good luck with the rest of the moving preparations. I hope everything else is smooth sailing for you and that nothing comes up that is going to part you from your feathered companions. I long ago determined that I could never seriously consider living elsewhere lest I be parted from mine (and hey, one of my cockatiels I actually got from someone moving to Honduras), so you have a lot more grit with your willingness to go through this hellish process!

  12. #12 "GrrlScientist"
    October 15, 2009

    well, the USFWS doesn’t keep files open longer than 2 months after they’ve been received, unless there is contact with the person who sent the application (and i learned that USFWS calls the applicant on the phone before closing the file). i’ve never heard of an importation of domestic pet birds taking long, so a five-year turn-around is absolutely beyond anything that i could imagine, based on my experience. i do know several people who imported wild-caught parrots and that process took them a few years, but they had to hire a biologist to do a field survey to document that the wild population was not endangered before a few birds could be captured and imported.

    anyway, flying back to the states to give a talk is not as expensive as you might imagine, especially if the flight is booked several months in advance on the internet using one of those “cheap air travel” search engines. your club might wish to have me talk about the process i went through to export/import my birds and all the interesting things that i learned along the way, because this process is not as difficult as i thought — after i made up my mind not to let all these officials intimidate me.

  13. #13 Firebyrd
    October 15, 2009

    These weren’t pet birds, they were for a breeding program. C. opthalmica is extremely endangered and rare in both the wild and captivity worldwide. Finding birds was very difficult in the first place, and finding some that were domestically bred in another country with enough documentation to satisfy USFWS was extremely difficult. As I recall, she had a number of potential birds rejected due to lack of sufficient documentation to prove their parents didn’t have a single questionable circumstance in their capture and exportation from their native lands. We had someone speak from a conure group a few years ago (I think it was the International Conure Association) and the lady had a similar story that she and some of her fellows had experienced while trying to import a rare Pyrrhura species (I want to say painted, but it might have been something else).

    I’ll definitely have to keep throwing your name in the pool. Your experiences would definitely be good information for us all to know, especially since some of us keep joking about buying lands for a compound somewhere like Puerto Rico where we can live without worrying about things like H.R. 669. ;)

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