This is the story of Barney an 11 year old Golden retriever who flew from UK to Australia, by quite the convoluted route. Barney was left behind in UK with the owner’s daughter, while he waited for his date of flight to come around. The parents had to travel to Australia for work and it was a treat to be able to leave Barney behind with a family member, where he would be spoiled and loved.
The pre flight veterinary preparation and paperwork was all fairly routine. The blood samples were taken and were negative and the day came when Barney was collected by PetAir UK and brought down to Heathrow for his final health check and then checked in for his flight.
Golden retrievers are very laid back dogs and 11 year old Golden retrievers are super laid back, but after Barney was checked in something must have spooked him as he started to get very anxious and started chewing his crate quite severely. Pets doing this is not hugely common, but it does happen and if you are using a pet shipper who is miles from Heathrow or you are checking in on your own then it is a huge drama – where do you get a new crate from at a moment’s notice? You don’t and the whole pet move and all the timings fall down pretty fast.
We got over to the airport within 20 minutes, got Barney out of his crate, calmed him down, checked his mouth for any wooden debris and found none and popped him in his new plastic crate. Barney now looked much more calm and settled in his new crate. Just bear in mind that Barney’s owners were not disturbed or charged for this new crate, it is all just part of the service the team from PetAir Uk offer.
Now Barney was travelling to Melbourne, Australia and travelling with Singapore Airlines, so he transited Singapore and is there for around 7 hours. The pets who fly with PetAir are afforded the extra service if being checked by an agent over there, watered, fed and walked. Most of the pets transiting Singapore are taken to the quarantine area and then taken back to the aircraft. This extra level of care was to save Barney’s life.
Barney landed at Singapore, was taken to the quarantine room and was checked by the wonderful team from Ricted Kennels in Singapore. Joanne and Thierry are a husband and wife team who work super hard to make sure the pets under their care are looked after like one of their own pets. Thierry immediately knew that Barney was not normal or well, so he commandeered the airport vet to come out and check him. Barney had an elevated temperature and was gagging. His symptoms were not that specific at this time and the decision had to be made whether to continue him on his journey or get him more thoroughly checked by a local vet, which would mean he would miss his flight. We called the owners in Australia to say that Barney was not well and what were their thoughts and it was decided to get Barney checked and then sort out the logistics of his flight once we knew how he was.
The owners are now very worried, obviously, but during the course of the conversations when Barney was in Singapore, there is not only the emotion of worry, but also an element of misplaced guilt. After all, Barney was perfectly happy and safe in UK. However, a great many older pets fly perfectly safely and they get to spend their retirement years being spoilt by families who love them and they love back. We know that the risk of something happening to an older pet is higher than for a younger pet, but it is still very small. Equally, the risk of an older pet getting ill is higher than the risk to a younger pet just walking down the road. As vets at Petair, we are happy to fly older pets as their welfare is best served over the long term by being with the families, even if in the short term (the duration of the flight) it is compromised. There was no indication with Barney before the flight that anything untoward would happen and with his age and breed and good health he was an excellent candidate for flight – hence any feelings of guilt by anyone involved with Barney were very misplaced. Barney did get upset in his crate, but again this is reasonably common and by the time we left him at Heathrow ready for his flight, he had settled down and was comfortable.
Thierry and Joanne from Ricted Kennels took Barney down to Mount Pleasant Hospital in Singapore and Barney was admitted and seen immediately. Everyone’s worst fears had been confirmed. Barney had a life threatening condition called GDV. This is where a large dog’s stomach can twist around cutting of the circulation to the stomach and spleen and any gas inside the stomach cannot escape so the stomach gets bigger and bigger. GDV can happen at any time – at home, on a walk or in a plane, no-one really knows why it happens, but it is life threatening if not treated aggressively and urgently. The vets in Singapore drained some of the gas from the stomach as a short term fix and it was time for us to call the owner with this heartbreaking news.
I called the owner. PetAir is my business and I am a vet, so there was no hiding from this conversation. When I broke the news to the owner, I could hear her husband in the background crying. This moment was harrowing for me. The lady I spoke to was trying to be brave, but both her and I were holding back tears. I explained that Barney had a GDV and chances of survival were low. He needed a major operation and even then his chances of survival were low, bearing in mind the condition he had and his age. Then came the common question from owner to vet “what would you do if he was your dog?” The answer was “what you should do is euthanise him, but what I would do if he were mine is go for the operation” Head says the sensible thing would have been to euthanise him, but heart said that surely giving him a chance would be the right thing to do. The owners agreed and said they would like Barney operated on, so the vets in Singapore were primed and began their most difficult of late nigh surgeries.
At any point during the surgery for a GDV, the vets can find internal organs which have been starved of blood and are dead, there can be tears in the stomach lining and the dog’s bodies go into very severe shock meaning that the anaesthetic they need is fraught with danger. It is half expected that you would get a call during the surgery to say that the patient did not survive the surgery. No call came. And then next we knew about Barney was an email to say that although the surgery was complicated, Barney had survived. His stomach had bene rotated back to a normal position and had been fixed internally so that this could not happen again. He was on a drip and hooked up to an ECG machine and heavily sedated under the painkillers he was on, but he was alive and had got over a very risky operation.
In the background, the team from Ricted Kennels had to cope with the details of legally getting Barney “imported” into Singapore as he was now no longer transiting but imported into Singapore. The quarantine station had to be notified that Barney would not be arriving as planned. He needed a new import permit to allow him into Australia and the preparation and planning for him to be exported from Singapore to Australia would have to be completed in quick time. The senior vet for the Australian quarantine service approved Barney’s import permit in around 6 hours – when they normally take 3-4 weeks.
Meanwhile, Barney continued to improve from a medical point of view, but was very weak on his back legs and would not eat the food he was offered. At 3 days after the operation, he was walking better and improving, but still would not eat. The husband in Australia was getting ready to catch a flight to Singapore to see him and persuade him to eat. The vets in Singapore tried him on scrambled egg, boiled egg and chicken and still nothing. If Barney would not start to eat, he would not get his strength back and the operation would have been for nothing. Barney was fed with a tube through his nose and into his stomach and then around 6 days after his operation he started to wag his tail, seem a bit happier with life and started to eat his food. These tiny steps seemed like giant leaps forward and finally after the worry and stress, the hope started to creep in that Barney would make it to Australia, but he still had another flight to go.
Barney continued to improve and was moved out to Ricted kennels where they worked really hard to put him in his crate, then take him out, then put him in and take him out again, the idea being that he would get bored of the crate rather than worried. His new export paperwork from Singapore to Australia was completed, his flight booked – less than 3 weeks after surgery – and all was set, just counting down the days to go.
Barney checked in fine, he was calmer than his check in in UK and then the agonising wait started. His flight left UK around 4pm and landed in Australia around midnight UK time. Even after all the work and effort and “string pulling” there was nothing anyone could do. If Barney got himself in a bother while in his crate he would arrive in Australia very poorly again and he would not survive the quarantine, and all the work and worry would have been for nothing. The night in Uk was long. He arrived at midnight (UK time). 0200 – no news, 0300 – no news, then some sleep. 0630 – finally an email from Ricted kennels and the owner saying Barney had arrived safely and was settling in to quarantine.
It seemed everyone knows Barney’s story – the emails from quarantine, which are usually quite matter of fact, were embellished with comments about how lucky Barney is to be still alive and survived the journey. Their normal immoveable stance on visiting was relaxed for Barney, but he was doing so well, that the owners did not decide to visit him.
10 days after he landed, he has now been released to his owners and is on his way home from Melbourne to Adelaide – no more flights for Barney, no matter how short. The journey is over, the destination reached and Barney gets to live out the rest of his days (hopefully for a long time) in Australia with his family. He is one very lucky dog, indeed.
Flying pets around the world is difficult, complicated and often completely routine – the pets travel ever so well and all goes incredibly smoothly. But we are dealing with pets and air travel and neither is an exact science and very rarely things don’t go exactly to plan. At the end of the day, Petair and its team just wants to fly pets and help people, this is our goal. If all journeys were like Barneys, then we would not be a business very long, but these journeys are what it is all about. Helping against the odds to get these pets to their destinations and their families is a great joy and privilege for us and what we love doing.
I have always wanted to do this but here is the whole list of people involved in Barneys journey, I have definitely forgotten some folk, but it gives you an idea of how many people are involved in a move such as this:
Barney – the hero in this for having the will to get through this journey and surgery and I hope he is very pleased with himself right now.
The owners – for being lovely and patient and not blaming anybody for this happening. This was no-one’s fault and just one of those unavoidable things
PetAir’s team in Windsor – for getting these complicated moves sorted out and rescuing the moves time and time again with their dedication and desire to do a great job for the owners and the pets.
PetAir’s team in Dorset – for doing all the background nitty gritty, without which our business would not be able to do the excellent work it does.
Singapore Airlines team – for caring and taking an interest and bending rules so that we could get Barney on a flight from Singapore to Melbourne at no extra cost.
Ricted kennels team – for rescuing Barney when he was dying, spotting he was very ill, getting the correct treatment for him. These people were the key difference between Barney living and dying.
AVA Singapore – the Singapore quarantine department for letting Barney “into” Singapore for veterinary treatment when the paperwork said he was only transitting
DAFF Australia – for issuing an import permit in around 3 hours – absolutely unheard of. And offering all the help they could to help Barney get to Australia.
Mount Pleasant Vet Hospital Singapore – for doing the surgery and aftercare to get him over this condition.
In total – there must have been around 150-200 people involved in some way with Barney’s journey and each and every one has a key role. Thank you to you all.
Mon Oct 5 2015