Getting a dog helped me survive my first deployment as a military spouse. My sweet, funny little ball of fur was the living, breathing reason I needed to get up, pull up my big girl panties, and actually live. Someone had to feed and walk him. I was the only candidate. Plus, coming home to snuggle someone who can’t complain about the 100th time you watch the same episode of “Gilmore Girls” is so, so, so nice.
But now we have OCONUS orders and getting our pet to our new military base is turning into an epic struggle.
An expensive battle, paid for in cold hard cash, tears, potentially blood and maybe even my second (unborn, unconceived) child. That’s up for negotiation.
Before you pass “GO” you need to get the furry friend on your service member’s PCS orders. This happens when you are setting up your move in the online system or through the admin shop. This ensures that you can bring Fido or Whiskers along on any offered military flights.
Next is the microchip. It should be the international standard 15-digit one. Anything else will require you to get your pet rechipped. And sometimes an older chip needs to be updated with a new one.
Shockingly, the medical screening is the easiest part of this whole ordeal. The specific requirements and restrictions vary for every OCONUS location, but generally you need similar things.
Pets should be fully vaccinated for everything and anything. There is a list for each overseas location. Live by it. This will require multiple trips to one or more veterinarians.
In completing this process, I’ve learned that if there is even a hint of an out-of-country move, you should start this process right now. Call your vet and book all the appointments.
With your pet cleared and officially ready to accompany you, the real fun begins – booking your travel!
For many destinations, everyone in the family is required to use military flights. These flights run from different military installations to other military destinations and they have tons of seats. For humans. For pets, a given MONTH (yes, month) could have as few as 8 pet spots.
Unless your paperwork is in early, cleared early and all of the good forces in the universe are pulling for you, you can kiss that military flight goodbye.
Except that the concept of that flight will haunt your every step in this PCS for months.
Logically, you know that your family has to get to Location X by Y date, and that you can’t ALL (pet included) travel together on a military flight. Therefore, you have a few options.
Option A: You convince the military that they should pay for the humans to fly commercial; you pay for the pet to fly in cargo on the same flight.
Option B: All humans take the military flight; the pet stays behind until you can send for him; you pay someone to ship him to you.
Option C: All humans take the military flight; pet stays behind with friends or family members for the duration of your OCONUS orders or maybe forever. This is commonly known in the military community as rehoming.
Let’s examine each option for getting your military pet to your new overseas duty station.
Option A might be the most logistically difficult. As I am learning, the military will fight you tooth and nail on this option.
For this one, the military member will have to be relentless. He or she will need to show up in person regularly to get anywhere.
Three words: Joint Travel Resolution. Specifically, Chapter 5, section 3A, paragraph 5588: Transoceanic Travel, item 2. It states that dependents are not required to use military provided means of transport (aka military flights like the Patriot). But your costs will likely only be reimbursed up to the amount that the government would have paid.
That’s the order you need to burn into your brain. It essentially means that you (the spouse/any children) don’t have to get on the military flight. You can decline and then you and the dog can fly on a commercial carrier to your next duty station.
Actually getting the military powers to comply with their own order is like pulling teeth. Be prepared to ask your spouse to stand his or her ground.
Once you get approval to book those commercial flights, you should call the airline directly to find out about their pet policies, get the route you want and make sure you arrive at a time when the animal inspection desk is operational.
This is the least expensive option, outside of the military-provided flights.
Option B can be pricey. Depending on the size and type of your pet, the cost ranges from $1,000 per animal to more than $3,000 per animal.
You and your human family get on the military flight (YAY!) and you pay someone to watch Meowie for a period of time. Then a pet transport service employee picks up Meowie and travels with her or arranges for her to be shipped, to you via plane. If the person travels with your beloved kitty, you will have to pay for the human and animal ticket, plus all fees and other line items.
If your pet is located somewhere other than a usual exit port for your intended destination, you will need to arrange for your pet to travel to that place.
You will need to make sure that your pet gets to a USDA-certified veterinarian 1 to 10 days before arrival in your new home. You’ll have to do this for all options that lead to the pet coming with you.
And you have to set this all up BEFORE you leave and monitor the progress of your plan while you are OCONUS, very likely many time zones away from all the people who are handling this operation.
Your pet is likely a member of your family. You love and cherish your friend. Obviously, you will be doing your best to get everyone on the military flight together. And if that doesn’t work (pending finances), you will probably try both options A and B.
But sometimes leaving your pet behind remains the only choice.
Option C will probably suck.
I won’t sugar coat it.
You will be leaving behind an animal who has loved you unconditionally.
If this is your only choice, rehome your pet with kindness and consideration. Find a family who will love him and care for him like you would. Decide up-front if this will be a permanent situation or if it is a temporary rehoming for the length of your overseas assignment.
Here’s the takeaway message as a pet owner facing OCONUS orders: having a pet is awesome for many reasons; taking that pet OCONUS with you is an ordeal not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.
Peruse the 1,600-page order that is the Joint Travel Resolution for any and all related clauses.
And annoy your travel office until they give you what you want.
Fair winds, following seas and may your pets always accompany you wherever your military journeys send you.