Monday, July 07, 2014

Sancha does Madrid

Sancha story time.

My work involves research in Spanish archives, which stubbornly tend to be located in Spain. I went a couple of times during grad school and left Sancha with scrupulously vetted caretakers. I would stay in cheap hostels, work insane hours and travel around, and none of this fit with the Sancha-care lifestyle. However, when I had a semester sabbatical in fall 2011 and a big house to stay in (I was doing a sabbatical swap with a Madrid family coming to NYC), it seemed like a good time to travel accompanied. Plus, my dog is Sancha Panza. How could I not take her to her ancestral homeland?

Around 2003, Spain lifted the non-EU pet quarantine (this seems to correlate with Spain's joining along in the Iraq war experiment, although I can't figure out how. But the next time someone says we got nothing out of the Iraq war, you can bring it up.) I couldn't find any airlines to Europe that would let me bring her onboard, but she had travelled once unaccompanied to LA with Continental Airline's special pet flight program--which may not be different than any other airline's pet flight protocol, but they have identified the endless source of income that is the childless older pet owner and all the buzzwords that prompt us to turn over our credit cards--with success. It wasn't cheap, but there are some things money can't buy...and I was glad that this wasn't one of them.

Not included in the price, of course, were all the vet certificates she had to get in order to be allowed to travel. The usual shots, a certificate of good health (the vets, of course, never miss an opportunity to insist on a full examination, blood panel, stool sample et al, so poor Sancha was multiply poked, pricked, and prodded).  Plus one of the requirements for admitting her to Spain was that she have a microchip, which she did, but it turns out she didn't have the same sort of microchip they use in Spain. I didn't want to turn my dog into a cyborg by implanting her with multiple microchips, so I looked into buying one of the internationally approved microchip readers. The purchase cost was prohibitive, but some company in Texas offered a rental price that was merely ridiculous. So, a lot of hassles and a lot of money, but everything more or less worked as planned and I left her in her carrier at the Continental petsafe area, right by the baggage claim at Newark airport, with people who seemed like competent animal-lovers. And I went up the escalator to check in for my flight.

Eight hours or so later, I was in Madrid. The flight had been in partnership with Iberia  I gathered my luggage (more than I could deal with, but I had figured I'd pick up Sancha and get a cab straight to my place in Madrid. I had expected them to lose my luggage, as has happened on every other Iberia flight I've ever taken, but no such luck). Except there was nothing resembling a Petsafe area by the Iberia baggage claim. I asked around, and nobody had any idea what I was talking about.  I called the number on some of my paperwork and they informed me that she would be arriving in the cargo area of the airport, some 3 miles away from the passenger flights. So I dragged my stuff to the taxi line, waited, only to have every taxi driver refuse to take me to the cargo area (since it meant a measly fare for them and then a return to the back of the taxi line). Meanwhile the cargo people insisted that there was no other way to get there. So I had to feign an uncertain address to a driver until I was safely in the cab and we had pulled away from the terminal, at which point I revealed my true intentions and got to listen to him complain and swear the rest of the drive. But he did drop me at the cargo warehouse, between DHL and the Post Office's warehouses. I went in to a little trailer full of truckdrivers coming and going and explained that I was looking for my dog--the woman was happy to collect some more $ from me, and then she sent me on a bureaucratic journey which involved three of four different office buildings, many pieces of paper, many stamps on the various pieces of paper, and a fresh bundle of euros at each stop. She had agreed only after a great deal of negotiation and desperate pleading on my part to let me leave my luggage in her trailer--it didn't seem to be against the rules, but it wasn't in the rules, and Spanish bureaucrats will do anything short of work after 2pm to protect the rules. I may just have left the boxes and hoped for the best. Meanwhile the clock ticked away toward the hour of doom....2 pm, because God forbid an office at an international airport stay open in the afternoons. At one point I was at the offices of the Department of Agriculture, waiting behind a guy importing 300 turtles for I-don't-even-want-to-know-what. When I got to the front of the line and said I was there to pick up my single 15 lb. mutt, the guy gave me a look that seemed to suggest that he held me personally responsible for Spanish unemployment, the Iraq War, and the decline of Western civilization.  (Which is odd, because Spaniards love their pets. It's not like Madrid isn't full of spoiled, frou-frou pets and the businesses that cater to them. Apparently they just draw the line at traveling overseas with them.)  With the clock ticking down to 2, I made it back to the trailer, my belongings were still there, my stamps were stamped, my signatures were signed, and I was told to go out to the warehouse floor and await my merchandise.

So there I sat, amidst multi-story piles of boxed furniture and appliances, watching a stream of greasy men come and go and get things signed and stamped (and linger around to complain about la crisis). It had probably been 11 hours since I'd left Sancha in Jersey. I waited. Forklifts motored around the warehouse floor, lifting and dropping pallets. I could not imagine how Sancha was going to arrive--inside a washing machine? Driving a forklift? I had plenty of time to imagine because she did not arrive. They started closing for the siesta. No dog. Finally, a truck driver who had come after me and had already received his merchandise took up my case and went in to demand answers. They had forgotten. Mere moments before two, a forklift came rolling in, bearing a pyramid-stacked assembly of large appliances, smaller appliances, and there at the tippy tippy top, probably 12 feet in the air, one little dog carrier. In order to get her down a guy had to go up in a forklift and because everything was tied together with steel cables, he needed a blowtorch to get her off and down from the pallet. So there was my poor little dog, 2 hours in a crate in an airport, 6 hours in the belly of a plane, 3 hours I don't even like to imagine being tossed around by men accustomed to working with refrigerators, and now perched at 12 feet circled by greasy men bearing chainsaws. They got her down. I opened the crate door. And she marched on out like, "Hey! So this is Spain? Boy do I hafta pee!"

Our saga didn't end there because if I thought it was hard to get a cab to the cargo area, it was only because I had not yet tried to get a cab from the cargo area...and don't even get me started on flying home...but while I was a nervous wreck, Sancha showed no signs that it wasn't just another day in the life of a loyal squire. Some days you ride a wave. Some days you ride a forklift. It's all good as long as you've got a bunch of sweaters to curl up with.

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