My little Dixie girl turned 13 over the weekend. That’s like 91 in dog years. Or is it 91 in people years? I get confused about that. Either way, I can’t believe 13 years have passed so quickly. I can still remember the day we brought her home like it was yesterday. She didn’t particularly care for the ride home, even though we had her wrapped in a fluffy towel and I kept her pressed against my chest for the whole hour’s drive. When we arrived at the house, she proceeded to sleep for three days, emphasis on days. At night she’d lie awake, whimpering for her siblings until I’d put her in bed with me for a snuggle. It got better after she accepted that her new lot in life included a human, rather than canine, family; and we all learned to live with each other’s eccentricities. (I know you’ve heard of humans being allergic to dogs, but in mine and Dixie’s case, it went both ways!)
Photo from 2001. My 17-year-old self hadn’t yet come to the realization that tanning beds and light under-eye concealer do not complement each other. Yikes.
Dixie was originally my dog, but over the years became our family dog, especially after the passing of our first family dog in 2006. Even though she wasn’t living with me when we got the news we’d be moving abroad, it hurt just the same knowing we’d be leaving her behind.
Then there were our six other pets we’d be leaving behind, those I lovingly referred to as “the girls”, and those that would never have been allowed to move abroad with us because they were, well, poultry.
Go ahead and laugh, but I was just as attached to my chickens as people are to their cats and dogs. Ours were part of the family. They’d come running when they’d see me come outside, and I’d cuddle each one of them before tucking them into the coop every night. Our chickens were more like little egg-laying puppies than regular chickens, and I could hardly bear the thought of leaving them behind, but in our case we didn’t have a choice.
Depending on what country you’re moving from and where you’re moving to, restrictions and rules about bringing pets abroad will vary – most of the time they’ll need vaccinations and vet checks on both ends of the journey, but there may be an additional quarantine period once they arrive in your new country as well. The first decision you’ll need to make is, is it worth it? Are you staying long enough to warrant the expense? Is your pet strong and healthy enough to handle the journey and/or quarantine? Is the country you’re moving to safe for your pet, and will they have ample living space? When it comes down to it, you need to decide if moving your pet is the right decision for them, not you.
If you do decide that it’s in their best interest not to bring them with you, commit to that decision. Try not to second guess yourself. (I know, easier said than done.) The hardest part of moving abroad for me was saying goodbye to our pets. I hope it doesn’t sound awful to say that – we miss our friends and family, we really do! – but we can stay in contact with them via Skype, FaceTime, and email. When we said goodbye to our pets, we said goodbye, and it hurt, but I learned how to cope with leaving our pets behind and hopefully these tips can help if you’re dealing with the same situation.
Before You Leave
Ask friends and family if they’d be willing to keep your pet for you while you’re living abroad.
It will make you feel infinitely better if you leave your pets behind in the care of someone you know. When we moved to Singapore in the 90’s, we left our dog with our vet who was also a family friend. Leaving her in such capable hands gave us peace of mind, and we knew he wouldn’t mind returning her to us when we eventually moved back.
If friends and family aren’t able, ask them to spread the word among their friends.
A friend of a friend is still better than a stranger. Sharing a mutual friend with someone who takes your pet in will hopefully help hold them accountable for caring for your pet responsibly while you’re gone, plus make it easier for you to stay in touch.
Visit the home of whoever will be taking your pet in.
Don’t feel guilty about asking to see where your pet will be living. And likewise, don’t feel bad about offering suggestions if there’s something you think they need to change. They’ve never lived with your pet before – they’ll likely appreciate any advice you can offer.
If it’s not the right fit, find someone else.
If you’re not completely pleased with the situation you’re leaving your pet in, for whatever reason, don’t do it. Don’t leave your pet with someone you don’t have complete confidence in. Find a tactful way to explain that you don’t think this is the right fit, and then find someone who is.
Write up a “Pet Manual” for your pet’s new owners.
Include anything and everything you think they’ll need to know, no matter how small – vet records and contact information, food preferences, food aversions, exercise schedules, sleeping arrangements, how you’ve handled any emergency pet situations in the past, etc. It’ll make you feel better to know they’re taking in your pet armed with all the knowledge you can possibly give them, and it’ll make the new owners feel better to have something to turn to without having to make an international call every time they have a question.
You can use any empty journal for your pet manual, or one specifically for keeping pet records. (Example: My Pet’s Health & Wellness Log on Amazon)
Spend more time than usual with your pet.
Those last few weeks before you move will be the busiest, but it’s very important to carve extra time out, even if it means less sleep, to spend quality time with your pet. Once you’re abroad, you will be so glad you made the extra time for them. It’ll ease a bit of the “abandonment guilt” you’re sure to experience after you leave.
Take lots of pictures and video.
This is an obvious one. When you’re sitting in your new home weeks after you’ve moved and you’re plagued with an extreme case of pet-missingness you’re going to be so glad you have all those pictures and videos to cry over. Trust me.
After You Leave
Place pictures of your pet where you can see them.
At first I didn’t do this because I thought it would hurt more to have pictures out reminding me constantly of what I left behind, but now I see them and smile. It doesn’t have to be much – perhaps just a framed picture in the living room, or change your phone’s background to a favorite photo of your pet. (For the month of January, Dixie’s birth month, my iPhone unlock screen was a photo of the two of us!)
Skype with them.
Before I moved, I read this article about Skyping with dogs. And then completely disregarded it. I don’t know whether Dixie can see or hear me when I Skype with her, but I know I can see and hear her. And it makes me feel just a teeny bit closer to her, so I do it anyway!
Ask for email updates and pictures.
If Skyping isn’t an option, have whoever is keeping your pets send you regular email updates with pictures attached. It’s a good way to stay connected with your pet’s temporary owner and stay in the loop as far as how well your pet is adjusting to their new environment.
Send them gifts.
Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, just-because-gifts – sending them a little something will make you feel like you’re still a part of their lives. You can even send them something that will remind them of you. For instance, Dixie loves dirty socks. If I was worried about her forgetting me, I might send her a sock I wore, but didn’t wash. Sounds a little gross, right? Not to a dog!
If you return back home for any reason during your expat journey, take the time to go visit your pet. Sure it’ll be hard to say goodbye again, but it’s worth it – for both you and your pet! They’ll know you still care about them, and you’ll hopefully be able to get enough snuggles in to last you until next time!
Do you have any other tips you’d add? How did you cope with leaving pets behind when moving abroad?
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