Paperwork and Liars: Getting My Dog out of Argentina (Part 1)
When I told people I was leaving the US to move to Buenos Aires, Argentina, most of them thought I was crazy. When I added that my half-brained dog, Padfoot, would be coming with me, they thought I had snapped completely. You can read all about the insane adventure (read: stressful nightmare) that he and I went through to arrive to Argentina in my article It’s My Dog and I’ll Cry if I Want To. After you read that, you might be surprised to know that when I decided to move back to the US just a couple weeks ago, I was determined to bring my beloved Padfoot with me again. Yep. I should be committed.
The Rules Have Changed. Let’s take this from inconvenient to comically complicated
When I moved to Argentina, the rules for flying with a pet were fairly straight forward. Padfoot had to have rabies shots no more recent than 20 days but still valid at the time of travel and an international health certificate done by a veterinarian that was qualified to do this exam no more than 10 days before the travel date. The airline rules were related to the cage size, a proper water bowl, and some temperature restrictions. Inconvenient, but reasonable.
This time, the international health certificate had to be done no more than 5 days before the travel date. Oh, did I mention the health certificate cannot be presented at the airport like before, but instead must be taken to a middle-man company called SENASA so that they can exchange the certificate for a series of stamped papers that you have to pay more money for? Yeah, well you do.
Getting to SENASA
The US Embassy website lists the address for SENASA as “Brasil and José C. Balbín, Dársena Sur, Puerto de Buenos Aires.” First of all, that’s an intersection, not an address. Second of all, it’s an intersection that doesn’t exist. I tried searching it on the Buenos Aires government map site and Google maps. No dice. I desperately tried to search each street separately, looking for the cross, but I could never find one. After 20-30 minutes of Googling various combinations of wordings, I found one result that said “José C. Balbín y Rawson Dellepiane Elvira, Av (EX Brasil)” Seriously? The street name was changed from “Brasil” to that mouthful and no one thought to update the embassy website?!
I found that this office was 1 hour away from where I lived. Sigh. I trekked out, only to find that half the signs said Brasil, half said Rawson Dellepiane Elvira Av. Get your shit together, street signs! The vague address and not at all consistent street layout resulted in me wandering around in the sweltering heat, clutching important papers, passport and Argentine ID, trying not to burst into frustrated tears. I eventually found the “building,” which was actually a tiny hut thing that was half-hidden behind a massive restaurant.
When I got inside the woman looked through my papers and said I was missing a note that said my dog didn’t have worms. After my hour and a half trek to get there and my flight only a couple days away, I almost snapped right then. Luckily, she was very helpful and said she would call my vet and ask him to fax something. The fax came through and after paying about $100 pesos for some papers with special stamps, I was on my way.
Oh you thought that was the end of the paperwork and payments? LOL
When I got to the airport 3 hours before my flight, I walked straight up to the counter (because my friend used his points to fly me first class like a BOSS) and confidently handed them my papers. The agent asked me if I went to SENASA. I assured her I had, only 3 days earlier. She said I need to go to the airport SENASA. I was sent to the other side of the airport (all the while lugging around my barking, horrified dog) to get yet another piece of paper. There was a minor issue when the guy said I was missing a stamp, but after giving him a completely pathetic, sad look, he said he would overlook it and handed me a bill, and told me to go to the airport bank, then come back to him for yet another stamp. I managed to get past this part of the obstacle course with minimal problems.
A half-hearted knight in cargo pants
When I finally got back to the agent, she informed me that I needed a special vet note that said my dog could fly in low temperatures so that he could fly to St. Louis. She suggested I go back to SENASA and ask them if they had a vet that would do this for me, otherwise, Padfoot was staying in Miami until spring. I trudged back over and begged the SENASA guys for help. One of them had chatted me up before, fascinated by my ability to be foreign, have the legal name Teresa and Argentine residency all at the same time, so he stepped up to try to help. While they discussed, I turned on my shaky crying voice (hey it worked last time, didn’t it?) and rambled on about how my dog couldn’t be left behind and my flight was leaving and please oh please help me. Eventually, one of the men decided to walk me to the airline counter and get this stuff straightened out.
As I’m wheeling my still totally spastic dog across the airport again, I am looking at this slightly grungy SENASA guy wearing cargo pants like he is my knight in shining armor, a hero meant to save Padfoot and I from the evil airline agents. However, my daydreams were shattered when he and the agent quickly resolved that this was neither an airline problem nor a SENASA problem. My so-called hero dropped me like a bad habit and left me to fend for myself again.
Lies and acceptance
At this point, my flight boarding time was getting dangerously close and I was getting desperate. The agents suggested that I fly Padfoot as checked baggage to Miami and then fly with him in the cabin to St. Louis. I explained that I would love to, but the kennel I had was for flying underneath, not in the cabin. They sent me to a luggage store to look for a new kennel. I returned empty handed and at the brink of a breakdown. The agents were clearly annoyed with my presence at this point, so they told me that since I was first class I could just fly with the hard kennel. I was skeptical. I asked her if I could have her employee number and a signed piece of paper from a manager. She looked at me like I was out of my mind, said they didn’t do that, and that she would put the notes in my reservation. I knew she was lying to me. Sure, she was typing away in that reservation, but what the hell would the Miami agents care if some random person in Argentina said I could fly with a non-regulation kennel? She was lying to get rid of me, but I chose to accept the lie. I paid her some more money, and rushed through security. Once I got on the plane and into my incredible first class seat (more on that in a later post) I relaxed myself with a mimosa and told myself you’ll figure it out when you get to Miami…