So there I was, walking through Rhodes town, my left hand grasping my dog’s lead as she attempted to sniff every interesting urban aroma, while my right hand pulled a trolley on which was precariously balanced a giant dog crate, semi-secured in roughly improvised island style by a rope I usually used as her lead.
It was late February, and although much of the month had been beautifully sunny, now the sky promised more rain. I’d spent over two hundred euros on this set-up and still had no idea, at this point, whether Lisa was going to get in the crate, or if it was exactly the right size, or how I was going to transport all of us to the airport when buses and taxis don’t allow dogs.
Lisa is actually a golden retriever crossed with a hunting dog, or so the vet guesses. She became mine when she was two months old, five years ago. Born on Rhodes, she’s lived mostly on Tilos and for a while on Karpathos. We travel together regularly by ferry around the Dodecanese islands. The big ferries have upper-deck cubicles for dogs, generally with one or two unhappily barking occupants. Lisa likes to sniff around them before declaring she’d rather sit outside and get to know the other passengers. I almost always give in, which is why I usually travel with a big rucksack stuffed with fleece blankets and sleeping bag.
I’d never considered taking her to England. During my brief trips to the UK someone usually pet-sits her, and we’ve made new friends through pet-sitting sites. This time, however, I planned to stay in England for a couple of months. I’d been under the impression that it cost a huge amount to fly with a dog to the UK, but David emailed me a link to the relevant sectionof the Aegean Air website, stating that a dog accompanying its owner can travel for 150 euros or less.
I was wary about the notion of putting my dog in the hold of a plane, but my friend Steven reasoned that it couldn’t be much worse than his commuter train. And at least she’d be happy when we arrived. Still unsure, I took Lisa to Rhodes to begin the procedure for a pet passport, which would need to be started at least a month before travel.
Lisa allowed me to lift her onto the vet’s table for her microchip and rabies injection and only tried jumping off once. Hari the vet was very gentle with her and she responded to the offer of treats afterwards with happy tail-wagging. Hari told me the earliest date we could travel and said that if necessary he could drive us to the airport in his jeep when the time came. Before we left, I asked his young assistant to show me the IATA-approved dog crates. Since we’d have to fly from Rhodes, I’d pick up the crate a couple of days before travel.
According to strict regulations, the crate (klouvi in Greek) must be 5–10 cm taller than the dog’s head when it’s standing normally, and the dog must have enough room to turn around and lie in a normal position. I tried to coax Lisa inside one of the larger models to check for size. She was a changed dog within seconds, resisting so vehemently with yelps and contortions and baring of teeth that I finally was forced to give up, afraid the vet’s assistant would think I was used to torturing my dog. I noted the crates’ dimensions and bought a tape measure, hoping it could be determined at home in relaxed conditions.
I decided to book a ‘Flexi’ flight to London in case of difficulties, and emailed Aegean Air to check some details. I received a helpful email back, detailing what I had already learned, plus one paragraph right at the end that said it would cost 890 euros for the dog.
It turned out that 'Transportation of dogs, cats and ferrets to the UK is only permitted for flights to London Heathrow and only to be sent as cargo,' charged according to weight.
The friendly person at Aegean confirmed that flying to any other European destination with Aegean, there would be no such extra charge. Only the UK.
I considered alternatives. If we went by trains, buses and ferries, we would save on airfares but might still have to buy the crate. I found a couple of useful sites online, such as The Man in Seat 61. Each section of the route, it seemed, would have its own guidelines and challenges, and Lisa could well be cooped up for much longer, in more difficult conditions. I remembered my experience in Crete when I was told that to travel by bus, she’d have to go in a crate among the suitcases in the unventilated space underneath… Other countries might have far worse regulations and I wouldn’t be able to communicate so well.
Driving would make for a good adventure, but I don’t have a car and my driving experience is mostly limited to quiet roads and small towns. For a brief moment I considered doing an Ishbel ‘World Bike Girl’ and cycling it; but soon ruled that one out. However, it did give me the idea of asking Ishbel for advice, since we work together and she was at that moment fundraising to fly two rescue dogs from Brazil to the UK. She confirmed most people taking their dogs to the UK have to fly to France or Holland, then drive or take trains and ferries from there – though I should be careful as some ferries only allow pets inside a vehicle.
Short of brute force, how would I get Lisa inside the crate? I asked Ishbel.
'Chicken,' she replied. 'Chicken always works.'
I emailed a couple of ferry companies and confirmed that the one ferry that would allow me to travel as a foot passenger with a dog was the Dieppe–Newhaven Transmanche. I’d been to Newhaven before so was comfortable arriving there. So I just needed to figure out the section from Paris to Dieppe.
David lives in Paris but he travels to Greece often, and I sometimes travel to Paris. When I told him the new plan, he said – as I had hoped – he would meet me and Lisa at Charles de Gaulle airport and travel with us for fun to Dieppe.
It was time to make one more effort to measure Lisa. She was extremely suspicious of the tape measure and lay unhelpfully on her back with her legs in the air each time I went near her to determine her ‘natural standing position’ height. But finally, affection and treats prevailed, and I found that she wasn’t going to fit into the crates I’d looked at.
It seemed absurd: she isn’t even a full-sized golden retriever. I called the vet’s office and spoke in Greek with one of the assistants, asking her to tell me the measurements of the biggest crate they had. There was a giant-looking one that I’d originally dismissed. The assistant was convinced that it was a metre high, which I was pretty sure couldn’t be true (maybe for a small giraffe rather than a dog), but I struggled to explain… I just had to hope it was the one I’d found online, and that it was a metre long. I’d keep my fingers crossed that it would be the correct fit.
We took a few days' trip to Nisyros, research for something I'm writing. Back home, with all that needed to be done for the UK trip, I found I couldn’t focus on anything else. Thinking about it more was only making me anxious: packing, closing up the house, all the time not really knowing... But either it would work out or it wouldn’t. It was time to go for it, look upon the whole thing as an adventure and enjoy it.
I decided to go out for a quiet dinner with friends at the kafeneio in Megalo Horio, then perhaps take the ferry the next morning and take things step by step. It was apokries, and the quiet dinner turned into dancing until 2 a.m… I made it to the ferry ticket office just moments before it closed, and suddenly we were off – on the first stage of our epic journey.