Getting your cat into China

Right off the bat: this post isn’t about the paperwork, it’s about the equipment you need.  If you have questions about the paperwork, FSI has semi-regular seminars about pet issues, and you can learn all you need at one of those.  Just be sure to double-check everything, because they like to change the rules and not everybody hears about the new rules right away.  For example, Diplowife was going to send our paperwork to the people in Virginia who are supposed to approve our cat, and it turns out we were supposed to send it to a similar office in New York.  Good thing she’s so diligent, so please follow her example.

Anyway, transporting our cat was the source of much stress in the weeks and months leading up to our move, and hopefully this post can help somebody out there.  First thing’s first: China doesn’t allow pets in the airplane cabin, so your cat will need to ride with the luggage (aka “accompanied baggage”) or in the cargo hold (not as nice, but it can still work).  So you’ll need a proper crate.  Here’s the one we got: Petmate Sky Kennel.

This kennel is hard-sided, which makes it suitable for transport in the luggage or cargo areas.  It’s too big for the cabin, so if you’re planning to transport your pet in the cabin at some point, you’ll need a second (smaller) carrier.  This kennel is the one you want for several reasons:

  1. It comes in several sizes, so I’m sure you can find one for your cat.  Our cat weighs about 8 pounds, so we went with the smallest size (21″ x 16″ x 15″, for pets up to 15 lbs.).
  2. It comes with lots of stickers that you’ll want to apply before you leave for the airport.  Stickers that point “up” so the baggage handlers will (hopefully) keep the crate right-side-up, and others that say “live animals” in large print.
  3. It has holes in the proper places so you can zip-tie the door closed.  Some airlines require this, and it’s a good idea to do it either way.
  4. The crate has ventilation on four sides, ’nuff said.
  5. It has a sturdy, comfortable handle on top.
  6. The door is on the front side, not the top.  Again, some airlines don’t allow top-loading carriers, so best to be on the safe side.

The carrier isn’t perfect without a couple modifications.  First, you’ll want to buy Pet Carrier Metal Fasteners.  These replace the plastic fasteners the carrier comes with, the ones that hold the top half and bottom half together.  Some carriers require metal fasteners, and (you guessed it) better safe than sorry.

Also, you want some zip ties to hold the door shut, and attach things to the carrier.  These are reusable, which comes in super-handy when you have to open the carrier door at the airport to show your cat to the security people and then put it back in and lock the door.  All without tools of any kind, but the zip-tie release tab may dig itself under your fingernail if you’re not careful.  This lifestyle is not for the timid.

And, just because I over-prepared and you might also want to, get this Travel Kit and these Carrier Pads.  Lots more warning stickers, fasteners and ID tags for your carrier, plus more pads to put under your cat…just in case.  Our cat needed one, as it took us over 30 hours from hotel to our new home in China with no bathroom breaks.  And the travel kit has superior food and water dishes, even though we couldn’t use ours.  More on that later.

One drawback the carrier had is the baggage stickers and other things that the airline people tried to attach would not stick.  The carrier and that kind of adhesive are just not compatible for some reason.  But, we had a roll of clear packing tape with us, so we used that to keep everything where it belonged.

We were advised by people at FSI and elsewhere to pack a bag of dry cat food for the journey, which we did, but the airline we used (Korean Air) didn’t feed our cat at any point.  Their English wasn’t great, and our Korean was non-existent, so I’m not sure why they wouldn’t feed her.  But some other airlines will feed pets in between flight legs, so come prepared.  We attached a food bowl and a water bowl to our cat’s carrier, but the airline didn’t give her water, either, as far as we could tell.  Our cat made it to China OK, but I can see this being a problem if you’re flying someplace hot.

As I mentioned, we were flying Korean Air most of the way to Shenyang, so we had a friend that speaks Korean type up a note saying to please feed and water the cat (fat lot of good that did, but give it a try) along with our contact information and the cat’s name.  We stuck that on the carrier’s top, along with a big picture of our cat, just in case she got out and it wasn’t clear what carrier was her’s.

Good luck transporting your own furry friends!  With proper equipment and preparation, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.  Not that that will stop us from worrying.


Swearing-in Day

Recapping continues…

The last day of A-100 is Swearing-in Day, which takes place at the main State Department building in Washington.  Like Flag Day, family and friends are able to attend, so I attended.  This time I was on my own, none of our family could attend.  I came down to Washington around noon, so I could have lunch with Diplowife at the State Department’s cafeteria.  Again, getting in the building means going through airport-like security, so be prepared for that. The cafeteria there is extensive, but the food was nothing special.

After that we went to a big auditorium for the ceremony.  The new FSO’s all sat in the front few rows, along with new members of the State Department’s civil service who were being sworn in at the same time.  Much like Flag Day, there were several State Department luminaries in attendance on stage, and several speeches.  They usually try to get the Secretary of State to attend, but he was busy elsewhere.  Just as well, one of the Undersecretaries was there and gave a very inspiring speech. He clearly has a lot of confidence in the State Department’s future, with new officers like my amazing wife running things.

After that, the new officers were sworn in, and all came up on stage for  a group photo.  Diplowife’s A-100 class was so large they couldn’t all fit, so the photo may not turn out very well.  So Diplowife was now an official Foreign Service Officer!  I took a lot of pictures, mostly of her, then we wandered around the building and took more pics.  There is a big lobby area with flags from around the world, for all the countries that have US embassies and consulates.  They had just reinstalled the flag of Cuba recently, which was nice to see.  There is also a little museum for some of the DoS’s historical artifacts.

Then we went downstairs to see the little shopping area.  They have two gift shops full of State Department and patriotic swag, plus a used book store, hair salon, post office and Starbucks.  I got some State Department cuff links, useful for DoS parties in the future.  That day, a group of Scandinavian diplomats were there meeting with Secretary Kerry and others, so there were a lot of extra security guards around the main entrance.  When we were leaving, they thought I was a Danish diplomat, which I took as a compliment.

After that, we went to a happy hour in Georgetown with Diplowife’s classmates.  I like meeting them, they’re usually very bright and personable, as you might expect. Then we walked around Georgetown a while, and got some early dinner at Martin’s Tavern, a popular place for politicians and journalists. We sat at Madeleine Albright’s favorite table, which we took as a good omen.  Unfortunately, I ruined the mood by getting butter all over my best suit somehow.  I’ll be more careful in the future.