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!