Phoebe’s Journey To Germany

Bringing a big dog like Phoebe out to Germany is no easy feat, and it’s not cheap, either! I figured it’d be worth describing what it took to bring our German Shepherd puppy back to her “homeland” for those who are curious.

A little about Phoebe…

We adopted Phoebe at the end of March 2020, so she truly is a pandemic puppy. As a result, she didn’t have much socialization for her first year of life. All she really knew was our suburban Nebraska neighborhood. She was shy in new environments and also a bit skittish. Still, Phoebe’s a clever and loyal dog, and we spent countless hours with her in the backyard playing fetch off-leash. She loves cold weather (especially snow!) and curling up on the couch.

Phoebe is also huge. While most male German Shepherds top out at 90 pounds, Phoebe is a majestic, statuesque 100-pound female (or maybe more like 93 pounds now since the vet told us to put her on a little diet).

Phoebe’s version of “if I fits, I sits!”

Preparing Phoebe for the move to Germany…

When we learned we were moving to Germany, we started researching expectations for dogs over there. Fortunately, Germany is a very dog-friendly country. You can take your dog almost anywhere with you – on trains, in restaurants, etc. But…they have to be well-behaved. In fact, when you go to rent a house, a landlord can ask to walk with you and your dog to get a sense of how obedient they are. If they don’t feel comfortable with your dog, they may not rent to you! While we’d already done taken a puppy class with the Nebraska Humane Society, we enrolled Phoebe in more intensive 1-on-1 training classes in preparation.

And then there are the legal aspects. In Germany, dogs must not be left alone more than five hours without having a walk, so crating your dog all day is considered animal abuse. Additionally, dog owners must pay a dog tax (hundsteuer) and obtain dog liability insurance (Hundshaftpflichtversicherung). Um yeah…that’s a mouthful!

In the end, the best training we did for Phoebe was something completely unintentional. It was the time we spent in an Airbnb in Omaha’s Old Market before we left! She got exposed to so much in that one week – parking garages, city traffic, elevators, and living in an apartment. At first, she was overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and smells. But each day, her confidence grew to the point where we could have coffee at a table outside with her laying by our feet! I have to admit that a big part of my anxiety about the move was worrying that Phoebe would misbehave or bark at everything while we were staying in our temporary apartment, so seeing her adapt so quickly made all my fears melt away. She was ready for the journey!

Shipping a big dog overseas…

A few things to note up front: for smaller animals, it’s usually the norm to have them fly on the same flight with you, either in cabin or in the cargo area. This can be pretty reasonable at $400 or so (and you’ll see why I say this number feels reasonable in a bit). However, Phoebe was too big for this option, so my knowledge about this process is limited and second-hand. We did join the Pups of Stuttgart Facebook group and that has been a wealth of information, especially during COVID-times.

At the bare minimum, this is what you’ll need to do to prepare. Make sure that…

  • Your pet is up to date on all shots and vaccines
  • You have a valid and unexpired USDA health certificate from a vet (only good for 10 days)
  • You’ve identified an airline that will take your pet (for example, United’s PetSafe program is currently suspended)
  • You have an airline-approved crate in the right size for your dog
  • There is someone to drop them off and pick them up on either end

About 6 months before our trip, we reached out to a few professional pet shippers to get a quote on moving the pets. MAJOR sticker shock when the numbers came back – for Phoebe it was hovering around $5,000. Yikes!

So then we started looking into all the details of what it would take for us to own this process from start to end. That’s when we realized that no matter what, this endeavor was going to be a serious logistical undertaking, all while juggling everything else happening for the move. Maybe hiring a professional would be worth it. Here are some of the constraints we faced:

  • Because of her size, Phoebe needed to fly on a Lufthansa cargo flight as air freight, the day AFTER our flight (She is too big to fly on United)
  • The closest airport to us that Lufthansa flew out of was Chicago O’Hare, a 7-hour drive from Omaha
  • We needed to ship our car from St Louis, more than a 6-hour drive from Omaha — 3 days prior to our flight
  • She needed a custom crate built to meet airline specifications — the largest standard crate was too small
  • She would need ground transportation from Frankfurt to Stuttgart
  • And, she could be delayed due to heat embargoes preventing pets from flying on hot days, which would require quite a bit of coordination

We looked at that list and realized that was A LOT. So in the end, we decided to hire Continental Pet Relocation to do the heavy lifting for us. The quote was itemized, so we did what we could to minimize the cost, like getting her to Chicago ourselves (that saved us $1,500).

In March, we got most of her shots updated at the military veterinarian on Offutt. It’s cheaper than going to our normal vet, and they’re very familiar with the process for shipping pets overseas. In fact, unlike most vets, they are able to both examine the pet to make sure they’re in good health, and certify the USDA forms, which saves time and money. Civilian vets typically need to FedEx the forms back and forth to the USDA, and that cuts into the 10-day period of validity. Curious to learn more? The USDA APHIS Veterinary Services page does have some good resources for both import and export of pets, so if you want to dig into the details, that’s the place to go!

Unfortunately for us, the active duty veterinarian left Offutt before our move in June, so we had to come up with a new plan for getting the USDA certificate. This also meant we had a crazy timeline because we also needed to drop off our car for shipment. We started with the date of our flight, and worked our way backwards. Here’s what we came up with to give you a taste of the madness.

Our timeline…

  • June 2nd – Drive to Kansas City (closest military vet) to get Phoebe her USDA certificate. Leave at 0445 for an 0830 appointment (3-hr drive), then start drive to Chicago (6 hrs from KC)
  • June 3rd – Continue the drive, then drop Phoebe off at the boarding facility in Chicago near the airport. Start drive to St Louis to drop off the car.
  • June 4th – Get to St Louis, vacuum out dog hair (the car was completely detailed on May 27th) before vehicle inspection. It failed inspection due to dog hair. After hours of more cleaning, it passed inspection. Take Uber to airport to fly back to Omaha
  • June 7th – We fly out to Germany
  • June 8th – We arrive in Germany
  • June 9th – Phoebe’s scheduled* flight to Germany
  • June 10th – Phoebe’s scheduled arrival in Germany

*I put an asterisk next to scheduled because Phoebe was delayed by a day due to a heat embargo. That’s just a fancy way of saying it was too hot for her to fly safely. But there’s more! Some airlines will not fly pets out of certain heat-prone airports, and/or they won’t fly certain breeds (especially snub-nosed dogs). Here’s a helpful article with more info on all that. Good to know if you’re thinking about adding a new fur baby to the fam and anticipate moving in the future!

Phoebe arrived around 9pm on Friday the 11th in one of those tall work vans. Her crate was locked in tight with these pressurized tubes that kept it from shifting around. While Ralph was signing the paperwork, we started to hear this “thump, thump, thump’ sound when she recognized our voices. It was her wagging her tail in excitement!

We took her upstairs to the apartment for a little food and water, and then it was out again for a walk around the lake. Phoebe’s spent a lot of time this past week sleeping, but I guess that’s not unusual. It does seem like she had a little jet lag, too – so we’ve had to nudge her to get up and out sometimes. But once she’s exploring, she’s happy. And she’s come so far in her journey from being a pandemic puppy with very little socialization!

Lessons learned and other musings…

  • We should have brought a bigger or empty bag to bring all of Phoebe’s things back to Omaha. Ralph tried to pack light with a backpack and didn’t have enough room, so he ended up buying a mini carry-on.
  • The ground transport from Frankfurt to Stuttgart was the best deal at $400. It would have cost us way more in time and money to rent a truck big enough for her crate and to do the roundtrip from Stuttgart to Frankfurt
  • We were very glad to have the pet shippers to handle coordination with the delay because jet lag hit us hard
  • Also, nice to have a day or two to rest and figure out the lay of the land before Phoebe arrived
  • The majority of people who have shipped pets out here have raved about Lufthansa, which also has an animal lounge. What?!
  • Her crate is seriously HUGE and had to be custom built to the tune of $850, so this new piece of furniture will now go with us from place to place. I do not look forward to carrying it down two flights of stairs from this apartment!
  • We do not regret the expense of hiring a pet relocation specialist one bit

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