The Calm Before The Puppy Trouble
We ended up staying in Tamarindo for four nights before having to continue on to our final destination for the month in Esterillos Este. We had such a good time together, drinking hotel specials and chili guaro shots, relaxing, not having to worry about border crossings or any of the odd stuff that we did while driving through the numerous countries. Not a worry was on our minds.
While we were in Tamarindo, the day before heading to Esterillos, a young lady had called me from San Jose United Cargo. She was very friendly and told me everything that I would need to do in order to have everything go smoothly when flying and picking up my dogs the following week.
I wrote each thing she had mentioned down, making sure not to forget one step. I put the piece of paper in my purse and continued on with our little mini vacay. I knew the next couple of days would be hectic to say the least. Knowing what was to come kept entering my mind. Taking the dogs to the vet for their health certificates, making sure we had crossed off all of our list once we flew back home, getting final things turned off and switched over to new addresses. As much as I wanted to ignore those thoughts, the days came closer and went by faster than ever. I no longer had the option of putting it off and to the side. We packed our suitcases and belongings and we were gone just as fast as we came. We say goodbye to our friends through tears. I hate goodbyes. As we leave Tamarindo, a small piece of my heart hurt. There is just something about that place. So much Pura Vida. It's just something you feel inside that you can't explain.
After wiping my tears and leaving Tamarindo, I knew I needed to put on my 'here we go, on our way to our new beginnings' hat. Four hours and thirty minutes later, we pulled into the gated community in which we would be living for the next 45 days, Malaga Residence. From the first look of it, I remember thinking is was cute and saw so many things for the kids to do.
Before even entering the gate, we could see a basketball court, tennis court, sidewalks, and houses upon houses that lined the streets. Although I have not been one to like to share a wall with a family we didn't know, (sort of like apartment living) the idea didn't really bother me. Once we were approved and the gate attendant found us on the list, he pointed us in the direction to go and which street to turn on. He spoke no English, and we didn't speak much Spanish, but we managed with his hands showing us the way. 323 was our house number. As soon as we pulled onto the side street, we saw two ladies and a gentleman come and greet us at our vehicle. It was the owners of the house and a neighbor who spoke English and would do all of the translating for us. The owners spoke little English but wanted us to know the ends and outs of the house. Once we knew the rules and understood how the neighborhood worked, they said their goodbyes.
With the door shut and all the luggage inside, we couldn't help but look at each other with excitement. After all the planning, all the ups, downs and unknowns, we were actually where we saw ourselves for the past two years .. in a new home, new town, new faces, new language. Even though we still had the next day to unpack, we didn't want to wait any longer. We had been living out of suitcases for the past two weeks and were ready to live out of drawers and closets again. The following day, we went grocery shopping and got everything ready for the kids' Christmas. I remember walking in the backyard trying to visualize my dogs who would be there just a couple of days later. I couldn't stop smiling. With each previous visit to Costa Rica, we would note all that was missing was our kids and dogs.We were only a few days out and our dream of having everyone together was turning into reality.
The morning of December 15, we woke up extra early to catch our 9:00 am flight back to Houston to retrieve our kids and dogs, and get the list of things done that we needed, that I kept trying to put off. Our kids greet us with happy smiling faces while the dogs gave us licks and paw shakes. It had been fifteen days since we had seen them, the longest we have ever gone. I remember feeling very overwhelmed and so much pressure on us with the little time we had given ourselves before flying back. Three days seemed like long enough, yet we barely managed to get everything done we needed to. The evening before our flight was to take off and head back to Costa Rica, I checked and checked again to make sure we had all that we were required to from the zip ties and metal kennel parts, to all of the labeling on the kennels. Everything was perfect and ready to go. 4:00 am came quicker than I imagined it would. Dogs and luggage were loaded and ready to go. I quickly made one more pass through my house one last time, and then head to load into the car myself.
Sad, as I knew more goodbyes were to come, yet happy to know we would be on our way to new beginnings. We arrived at the airport cargo area to first unload the dogs and kennels. We hand over all the paperwork we received from our veterinarian and get them stamped into the system. The employees then load the dogs onto rolling carts to be taken to the back where they would wait to board the planes cargo area. I nervously tell them goodbye and we will see them soon as they are rolled away. They had never done anything like they were about to in their lives. I couldn't imagine what was going through their minds. Wiping away more tears, we head back to the vehicle so we could go over to the main terminals where we would check in. We stood in line, while my family waited to the side. Knowing we weren't coming back, we had one way tickets.
Unknown to us at that time, we were told we could not board the plane unless we had a flight coming back to the states for all four of us. Panicked, I asked the lady behind the counter why the woman I booked the one way flights with didn't mention anything like this to me. She kept giving me BS answers and shooing us away until we had those flights back to Houston within a 90 day period booked and could show proof of it. Knowing we only had so much more time until our flight was to take off, we hurriedly booked those flights. I kept picturing my dogs being flown, while we sat back in the Houston Airport. Mind you this is United we went through, simply because we had read good reviews on pet travel. We normally fly Southwest Airlines, however they do not have cargo pet areas and cannot fly pets cargo. Having three - 70 lb dogs and one extra long wienie dog, they could not go inside the plane under the seats. We hugged and squeezed each one of our family members a couple of times each before we had no other choice than to get through security so we could make our flight and save our dogs once we landed in CR.
We ask the flight attendant on board if they would mind checking to see that all four of our dogs made it on the airplane. They were quick to respond that they were doing good and ready for the flight. With that statement, my mind was at ease, at least for the next three hours, knowing there was nothing I could do for them while we were in the air. We land in San Jose, first thing was first, customs and getting our luggage. We knew the cargo area closed at 4:00 pm, so we knew we had several hours to get to our dogs and get them checked out of customs. As soon as we could, we headed straight to the cargo terminal, which was still on the airport grounds, just in a different section and off to the side.
With a little help, we found where we needed to go. Once we opened the door to the cargo office, the lady behind the desk knew exactly who I was. "Hello Lindsey, we've been trying to get ahold of you." I told her my full name and that we were there to get our dogs that had been flown from Houston. She stated she had been trying to call and email, unbeknown to me as we were in mid air during the flight. Before long, I realized it was the same lady that had called me while we were on our mini vacay in Tamarindo to let me know of the process and what all we would need. I felt a sense of relief. She knew who I was.As much as I kept trying to read her face while she was on the phone with another employee, I just couldn't. Nor could I understand what was being said. Thankfully she did speak good English to us, so there was no misunderstanding.
As soon as she placed her phone back onto the hook, she turned to us and said' "there are some papers missing and we cannot find the health certificates for your dogs." I knew that had to be a mistake because the employees took the original health certificates from us and taped them on the dogs kennels before they were even boarded onto the plane back in Houston. I made copies just in case anything did happen and they got lost. They would not allow me to keep the originals, and stated they would have to be with the dogs the entire flight and through customs in CR. She kept telling us that they did have the originals but they were not stamped with a USDA stamp required for them to pass through customs to be in our care. I did not understand what she meant. We had taken our dogs to the Veterinarian and paid close to $600 for all four dogs to get their signed health certificates. How did they board the plane in Houston, had they not had what they needed? Nothing made any sense to me. About an hour into conversing back and forth with her, she had another employee come over to us to try and help us understand better. His first comment was "I just want you to know that it could be a possibility for them to be shipped back to Houston." My eyes welled with tears. Trying not to go crazy in front of my kids, I just held my head in my hands, Was I hearing him correctly? There was no way in hell I was about to have my dogs go through that again. I didn't have anyone to pick them up in Houston, they had no where to go. They hadn't had anything to drink since they left us that morning about 5 am, nothing to eat, no where to potty. I was furious beyond belief.
I knew no matter what, I couldn't take it out on the people that were there in front of us trying to help. If anything I have learned being in business, is to be nice. If I got snippy with them, that is what I would get in return. And with them having my dogs hanging over my head, I wanted to be as nice as I possibly could be, yet letting them know I was not leaving without my dogs. Hour upon hour went by. We had less than an hour before they were to close. We made several calls to the vet, getting the office to speak with the lady that was sitting behind the desk. I kept thinking there has to be some sort of miscommunication. We made sure to do everything like we had been told, crossed all of our t's and dotted all of our i's. How were were in this situation being told we couldn't get our dogs? We had my parents go the to vet's office themselves to get a copy of what the vet had, so we could print them off of email for the customs.
With each minute passing quicker than ever, my heart wanted to pound out of my chest. One thing about Costa Rica, tico time is tico time, and closing meant closed. No and's, if's, or but's. I feared them closing and my dogs being held in some unknown location. My three labs are pure bred, so the thought of someone taking them crossed my mind often at the beginning. The male employee quickly wanted us to know that they were in our court, so had someone who worked in cargo area where the dogs were held, take video and pictures of each one so we could see them. They gave them water and tried to calm them down through the cages. I was so thankful for them to put my mind at ease just a little. We sat in the little two seater office for four hours at this point and still hadn't gotten anything resolved.
We were still in the same position we had been in when we first walked into the office. No papers with the USDS stamp, and no dogs. My poor parents were at a loss too. They didn't know what to do. They just knew the situation we were in was not a good one for us, or the dogs. After the vet had realized that the stamp was not on the paperwork, they offered to take it by hand to Houston the next day to the USDA office so we could have the stamp. Even then, they would have to mail the originals to us in CR which could take who knew how long. Customs stated we needed originals, copies would not do. The possibility even crossed my mind for us to just stay in San Jose for the night and retrieve them the following morning. But still what good would that do? The soonest we could get it mailed would be seven business days and that was on the fast trek. My dogs could not stay there for seven days. That is when them flying back to the States would have to become a reality.
Here we were on the home stretch (after all the border crossing headaches, and miles and miles of driving) and something as silly as the vet (we've went to all these years for our dogs) had forgot to include the USDA stamp. Little did we knew that out of all of that, this stamp would be our biggest problem. I kept thinking of the order in which it went wrong. The vet forgot the stamp, the airlines let my dogs on the plane without the correct paperwork needed, yet here we all were in CR. How does that happen? Luckily the lady back in Houston that had taken my paperwork in United Cargo, had signed her name at the bottom so we could trace back to why she didn't mention anything about this much needed stamp. At this point it was after hours and even the veterinarian in customs was getting ready to leave for the day. It was almost 6 o'clock. We had been at this office for 6 hours and counting.
My kids were starving and depressed not knowing if we'd see the dogs or not. The three out of the four of us were in tears and stressed beyond belief. In Costa Rica, you must get a dog broker to get all the paperwork taken care of and the dog back in your care. Between the lady behind the desk, the male employee, the broker, and the customs veterinarian, they decided that United was in the wrong to let the animals board the plane. It was not our fault, yet we were the ones having to deal with it. They all agreed that if we agreed to get the paperwork stamped and brought back within a certain time period that they would allow us to take our dogs. We agreed. We would do whatever we needed to. Seven and a half hours after landing, we were taken to the cargo holding facility and could see our dogs in their kennels. Barking and wagging their tails, I yell to them, "momma's coming babies. I love y'all, and I'm so sorry."
We tear each kennel apart, one by one loading them up into the cab of the truck on their leashes. We thanked the employees over and over again and reassured them that we would stand by our word and bring them the paperwork required. We knew they were doing this to be kind, not because they had to. Maybe it was our persistence, maybe it was us not wanting to take no for an answer. But whatever it was, worked. All eight of us loaded into our truck and head back to our home for the next 45 days in Esterillos Este.
Low and behold, the following day, we filed a claim with United and were approved for a full refund back, $1800.00 for the dogs flight. We are not people that try to get something for nothing. We are not people who you have to impress. We are people who want to get what they paid for, no more, no less.
We ask my mom to pick up the paperwork the vet states in the right one, this time. She mailed it to us which arrived seven days later via FedEx. With the brown envelope in hand that came straight from the vets office, to the FedEx office, I proudly hand it to the sweet lady behind the desk in the United Cargo area in San Jose that we had promised we would bring back. She opened the envelope, took out the paperwork and grabbed her desk phone. In Spanish she spoke about our paperwork to the person on the opposite end. She placed her hand over the bottom of the phone and handed it to me, letting me know it was the broker for the dogs and he wanted to speak to me. Not thinking anything of it, I grabbed the phone and excitedly state who I am.
His voice came across in a concerned tone. Was what he was telling me for real? He let me know that the paperwork still did not have a USDA stamp, yet again. My heart just sank. I cannot remember what he said leading up to, "its okay, I'll give the customs veterinarian this and see what he says." I hand the phone back to the lady behind the desk, thanked her for everything she had done and we high tailed it out of there, knowing we did everything we possibly could, even spending $127 for expedited shipping of the envelope. Will we ever fly united again? Most likely no. Will we go back to the same small town vet for important papers again? Most likely no. At the end of the day, we were all just glad to be together, no matter what it took to get us there.