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Well, it’s official. Me and my family are relocating to Atlanta!  The move is totally temporary, only for a couple of months, while my husband is working on a movie for Netflix. I can’t say we saw this coming but since this is an incredible opportunity, we chose to embrace it.

There’s only one problem; the dog. How do we get Dexter to Atlanta safely and in a way in which he will be comfortable?

Driving seems to be the most practical but since it’s time-consuming, and Dexter hates the car, it just won’t work. Dexter can hardly make it to the groomers or Vet, which are short trips, without working himself up into a drooling and panting mess.

The only option for us seems to be flying. But how does this even work? Do we buy Dexter his own seat? Put him in cargo? Stuff him under the seat in front of us? I have no idea. I’ve never flown with Dexter, but I’ve seen other people on the plane with their dogs. I know it can be done, just how?

We’re going to be in Atlanta for a few months, and I’m not about to be without him for that long. I don’t know where to begin so I decide to consult the Veterinarian.

I take Dexter to the Vet and we discuss putting Dexter in cargo. Make no mistake, I’m terrified of putting him in cargo. How would I ever forgive myself if Dexter didn’t make it? Honestly, I don’t think I would survive if he passed away in his crate in cargo. I talk to the Veterinarian who tries to alleviate some of my fears. “Thousands of animals fly in cargo every year and the majority of them make it.” She tells me, which is not that reassuring.

“We only hear about the ones that don’t make it.”

This isn’t making me feel any better. I’ve heard these stories, too.

Heartbreaking circumstances of beloved pets not surviving the flight. I think about Dexter being trapped in cargo while I’m in the main cabin and I can’t stand the thought of it. How would I ever forgive myself if something happened to him in cargo? How would I even get through the flight?  I’m terrified that Dexter won’t make it in cargo and I tell the Vet as much admitting to her that Dexter is my, “canine soul-mate” and I can’t live without him. The thought of starting our adventure in Atlanta without Dexter makes me emotional. I tell the Doctor that I think we’re both going to need something for anxiety and then she tells me she might have the solution; make Dexter my Emotional Support Animal.

An Emotional Support Animal or ESA is allowed to ride in the cabin with its owner as long as it meets the criteria. But what is the criteria?  I ask the Vet. The Vet tells me the criteria is basically that Dexter provides emotional support and unconditional love, which he does, but certain other conditions have to be met. What are those conditions? I don’t know and neither does the Veterinarian, but I intend to find out. I thank the Doctor and tell her she’ll be hearing from me. I leave with Dexter,  relieved that there is a comforting solution to my doggy travel dilemma.

When we arrive home, I do some basic internet research. My first Google search on ESA’s directs me to numerous sights which offer to sell me the documents that I need; a certificate, which they claim, is the magic ticket to get your pet on a commercial airline flight in the main cabin with you. Hmmm, seems scammy…must be something more to it.

I don’t trust any websites willing to sell me an ESA certificate, no questions asked.  I call up the airline instead and ask them what they need. And in this case, the airline is Delta, which from my information-gathering, is lucky, because they seem to have the best reputation when it comes to handling pets.

I call the toll-free Delta number and give them my flight information. The Delta person is sympathetic and agrees having Dexter in the cabin will definitely be less stressful then having him fly in cargo. She asks me a couple questions about him, his general health and behavior and then she tells me I need to speak with the supervisor.

The supervisor is a pleasant woman named Dionne. I tell Dionne the same thing I told the first agent and she concurs that Dexter would qualify as an emotional support animal and even goes so far as to say that in most cases aren’t all our animals our emotional support animals?

Dionne explains the paper work I need and where exactly to find it on the Delta site. I follow her instructions and download the forms. It’s my understanding that I need three specific documents completed:

The first document is a signed form from the Veterinarian attesting that Dexter’s vaccinations (most importantly, the rabies vaccine) are up to date. I scan this and fax it to my Vet. She signs off on it and e-mails it back to me. Good. One form down, and two to go.

The second form makes me slightly nervous because it means I have to see my Doctor and discuss an issue with him we haven’t discussed before; my Mental Health. I make an appointment with him for later in the week.

The third and final form is the “Confirmation of Animal Training”. This form is for me to sign off on attesting to the fact that Dexter has been trained to behave in a public setting and takes my direction on command. I have no problem signing off on this one. Dexter is very well behaved-mostly, and well-socialized. I agree to take responsibility for his actions which include any bad behavior. Worse cases come to mind such as him biting someone or pooping on the plane (the horror!)

I’m going to take extra-precautions to keep Dexter away from good-intended strangers on the flight that might want to pet him. I also have a plan to prevent plane-pooping by feeding him early the morning we leave and exercising him, which should solve for that. I should add here that the good people at Netflix are flying me and my hubby first class which will make its somewhat easier to keep Dexter all to myself, either on my lap, or at my feet.

On the day that I meet with my primary physician I’m a nervous wreck. What if he says, “No”? And refuses to sign my form.

Waiting in the exam room for the Doctor, I go over all the reasons I need Dexter to be my ESA. I had even gone so far as to slip a copy of my book, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale”, into my bag so he can see PROOF that Dexter is actually already my Emotional Support Animal. I practically dedicated the entire book to him, so there’s that…

I discuss the situation with the Doctor who gives me practical advice for handling stress. I nod, “Yes, this advice is all wonderful, but I need one more thing.”  “What’s that?” the Doctor asks? I’m sure he thinks I’m going to ask for a prescription but instead I tell him; “I need my dog!”

It’s difficult to restrain myself from pulling out my book. Instead I show the Doctor the Delta Form. The form is basically signing off on the fact that my dog would make me less anxious and provides emotional support. He pulls out his MD card for the form and completes it and we’re done! I did it! All forms for Dexter to be my Emotional Support Animal have been completed.

At home I upload the documents to the Delta website. Two days later I call the airline as instructed and the agent tells me that Dexter’s in compliance. They promise to e-mail me a form stating as much within two days of our flight but that’s it, I did it!

Dexter is my Emotional Support Animal. I feel so official now.

On Tuesday we get on our flight to Atlanta and I’ll be sure to write a follow up post letting you know how Dexter did. For now, my computer is being loaded up and sent to Atlanta, so this is it…

Stay Peachy!

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