Chapter 3: Canadian Soil (continued from Perspective)
To this day, when I introduce Ben or even the picture of Ben to anyone and they learn, typically in this order, that he’s: a terrier-cross, he’s almost 17, and he’s from Poland, the information is answered: he’s adorable, I had/have a terrier/mutt; my god, that’s amazing; and, how did you bring him here. As a result, the story of how Ben got back to Canada is probably one of my most rehearsed and overplayed which is why it has tended to get shorter and shorter to the point of not even being a story anymore but rather a fact.
The fact is it wasn’t hard; the fact is also the Ben gained entry into this new country more easily than Andrea and I did having been gone for four years. Ben was in fact through customs and had been “inspected” and approved by Agriculture Canada a whole 30 minutes before we got through and processed ourselves.
Everyone assumes much as we did when we started the process that it was going to be long and ridiculous. Most without dogs assumes the task was Herculean that we were envoys of some canine version of Mother Teresa to have brought him back at all. Anyone with a dog assumes, whether asked or not, that quarantine was involved. Here’s another fact: the countries that typically give the import of animals a bad reputation are all “islands.” The relative ‘horrors’ of Australia, New Zealand, and the UK are almost the stuff of urban legends – but true nonetheless; yes, it can be difficult or long to get dogs onto those “islands” but it entirely doable with good planning. Dogs can spend three, six, or more months in quarantine in these countries. Largely, it is because they don’t have naturally occurring rabies there. Here’s yet another fact: rabies exists readily in Canada. The squirrels of your neighbourhood could be carrying the disease. I know … it makes you think twice about the nuts you leave out for them. And it’s certainly common enough in our wild – that’s not to say anyone wants another example in their own city, but it wouldn’t be the first case, that’s for sure.
Our research in bringing Ben back began with Andrea phoning her parents to tell them that we’d be bringing their grandson back to Canada and asking if we could all stay with them for a while. Not exactly animal people, I don’t think they were thrilled but they loved their daughter and wouldn’t deny her much. They were just relieved that we were finally coming home. Thus her mother agreed to do some research which started with call to a vet, then customs, and who in turn put them in contact with Ag Canada. Remember, 1997 was not entirely pre-Internet, but it was pre everything being on the net … and pre everyone having access to it. She gathered the information and delivered it to us over the phone. Ben would need some shots, including rabies, and that these would have be documented and certified by the “national vet.” These had to be administered a minimum of three months before arrival, but beyond that, the only other thing for us would be to notify Ag Canada in advance that Ben was coming and on which flight he’d be arriving.
Getting Ben certifiably vaccinated meant going to a vet in a real office who had all the right paperwork – so our vet who made house calls was out. So, in fact, were many of the people around who weren’t exactly certified to be dispensing veterinary medicine. Ultimately we found an approved vet that was recognized by the national vet and we took to him a letter that Magda wrote for us that explained in thorough detail what we needed. The rest we managed through our broken Polish which wasn’t exactly prepared for the export of animals. Ben got his shots over a couple of visits and these included rabies, distemper, and parvo … and as I recall, the poor guy also got shot up for Bordetella and Leptospira. Ultimately, nothing most puppies don’t receive in their first year or two in Canada anyway. Other than slowing him right down for the day after each series, Ben was no worse for wear – though I can’t say that he enjoyed the public transportation to the vet. This required that he be muzzled – it was the law that every dog, regardless of size or breed, had to be muzzled on public transportation in Poland. In my somewhat twisted brain, Ben became Hannibal Lecter every time the muzzle went on. I don’t think – rather, I know – that Ben was amused.
The next step was taking these vaccination certificates that listed the vaccine’s info like the lot number, manufacturer, dosage, and date, and taking these to the national vet for official certification. I’m still not entirely sure what the Polish national vet was or is, but my assumption is that it is an office in an organization similar to Canada’s federal department known as Agriculture Canada. Either way, it was a bureaucratic process, not entirely fun, and which involved navigating a Kafkaesque building with kiosks and lines until we finally sat in the office of the national vet who asked us some questions, looked at the paperwork, and who then completed and stamped a piece of paper.
So it was that Ben had his ticket to ride. Now we needed to get our house in order and do the same.
Continued next … Chapter 3: Canadian Soil — Panic Attacks