Can you bring your pet with you to Okinawa? Of course you can! You’ll probably hear stories about how expensive, complicated, difficult, nearly impossible it is, but I pinky swear- it’s not that bad. So, please do not leave -or worse- abandon your pet out of fear of the unknown. As with everything else involved in an overseas PCS, the key is to be organized. Plan ahead. Know what steps you need to take. Make a list and check it off. If you have a base veterinary clinic, have everything done there. They know what they’re doing.
Here’s what we did:
- Microchipping- Although your dog may already have one, there is a good chance it’s not internationally recognized and she may have to get another. International microchips are 15 digits. Khloe (our dog)’s was not international, so she got another one. She is practically a cyborg now, right? The microchip has to be done prior to the rabies (or any other) vaccination or FAVN testing. Our vet literally did it right before at the same appointment.
- Rabies Vaccination- Stateside, our dog was up to date on her rabies vaccination, but the rule is that your dog must have two new rabies vaccinations after being microchipped. When you get the first rabies vaccination, schedule the second for at least 30 days later. At our base clinic, the microchip and rabies vaccination were $10 each. Also, all other vaccinations must be up to date. If you’re not sure or can’t prove that they are, be prepared to have them done again.
- FAVN- This is something you’ll see a lot. FAVN stands for Fluorescent Antibody Virus Neutralization and it’s the lab test that confirms your dog is not carrying rabies. This test is done via blood sample and can be taken immediately following the second rabies vaccination. This will typically be sent to the nearest Army veterinary lab and will cost you money. In our case, it was $42. I was allowed to pay via debit/credit card, but if you don’t plan on paying with plastic, be aware that personal checks are not accepted. Call the vet clinic to find out the cost and come prepared with a money order or cashier’s check. The results will be sent via regular mail to your address. The results take about 2-3 weeks. When you receive it, file it away in your organized binder in the “DOG” section along with her vaccination records, rabies certificate, etc. You don’t have a binder? Get one. We refer to our PCS binder as The Book of Life. It holds everything pertinent to our PCS and we carry it with us during the trip.
- Quarantine- Now, when most people hear that their dog needs to be quarantined for a move to Japan, we imagine our furry family member shivering in a cold, concrete boarding kennel for months on end. (Awwwww…) If that’s what you expect, be prepared to do a cartwheel. Are you ready? Quarantine can be done in home. SOFA status personnel can complete pet quarantine in on-base housing. And the quarantine period begins as soon as your pet’s FAVN results come back clear. You may continue to quarantine your dog in home when you arrive in Okinawa, as long as you are staying on base. If you end up living off base, you will need to board your dog in a kennel for the remainder of the quarantine period. *Honestly, if you’re off base and are good about keeping your pet indoors other than for potty breaks, it’s probably safe to keep them with you. But you didn’t hear that from me.
- Health Certificate- No earlier than 10 days before arrival in Okinawa, you will need to obtain a signed health certificate, DD form 2209, from your base vet. This is valid for only 10 days from date of issue, so I advise to schedule this as close to your departure date as possible. Now, if you do not have a base veterinary clinic nearby, this does get a little more complicated. If your dog is seen by a civilian vet, the health certificate and rabies certificate will need to be taken to the nearest USDA facility, be signed by the attending vet and stamped with a raised seal. See where your nearest USDA is well in advance. I know here in the Phoenix area, the closest one is in Tucson, which is over 2 hours away.
Aside from all that, it is very, extremely, super important that you book a space for your dog on your AMC flight (assuming you are flying non-commercial) to Okinawa as soon as you possibly can. There is a limited amount of space (more specifically, weight allowed) for pets on each flight and as you can imagine, they fill up super fast. This is one of the best reasons to obtain orders as early as you can (because you can’t book your flight without them). Get in touch (and make friends) with TMO to find out when flights for your PCS month open up. Then, about 2 weeks prior to then start calling them daily to inquire. 😉
The Husband received notification of permanent (ha ha!) change of station in December. I don’t recall the exact date, but early enough in the month that we knew it would be our last Christmas here in Arizona. Wah wahhh.
As soon as Christmas break was over, I started things moving with our paperwork.
Medical clearance for the family includes:
- Pediatrics appointment (basically a wellness check) for all three kids
- Family Practice appointment for moi
- Women’s Health appointment for me, too. (I was due anyway. Wheee!)
- Dental checkups/cleaning for the kids
- Dental checkup/cleaning for me. This also meant I had to seek out a dentist because I had managed to put it off for over three years. No cavities, by the way…
I brought along the required paperwork for the doctors to fill out (not necessary in women’s health, as your primary doctor in Family Health signs off). Dental was easy-peasy, so those were completed right away. Pediatrics took just a day or two. Mine was completed immediately as well.
Plan on not being able to get an appointment in pediatrics right away. We had to wait about a month.
Next up, the kids’ school paperwork. Basically, it’s a fairly short form that wants to know whether your child has any sort of special needs in school…an IEP. Other needs, such as requiring gifted learning instruction, etc. were not mentioned. This is not important to them. 🙂 What I did was fill everything out myself and had an office administator at their schools look it over and sign and date. That’s it. If my children were in school on base, I would have left it for the staff to fill out, but I didn’t want to make it seem uber complicated and intimidating to the regular public school, since they’re not used to seeing military documents and might be afraid of getting court marshalled or sent to Gitmo if they happened to fill something in without complete accuracy. (This is just an assumption.)
Was that all? For being such a fat looking stack of papers, that doesn’t seem like it was much… but that was that! After everything was filled out and signed off on, The Husband scheduled our medical clearance, which is a pretty fun family event. You all get to sit at a long boardroom table and seemingly get quietly observed by five or six people as someone goes through each individual’s medical records verbally. Thank God there was nothing embarrassing in there. In a nutshell, they’re looking for:
- Severe/debilitating/ongoing physical illness or injuries (We were quizzed about our asthma status.Our youngest and I have it, but haven’t had a major issue. )
- Severe/debilitating/ongoing mental illness
I have an anxiety disorder and have taken medication for it for years, so they decided to pull my records for Kadena to review and decide if they could handle another wacked-out military spouse (I kid!). They had a 14 day window to get back to Luke, but I was cleared in less than a week. Thankfully, there was a shortage of wacked-out military spouses at the time. Whew.
Other than that, medical clearance was seamless. After ours was cleared, The Husband was able to schedule his. The servicemember does theirs separate from the family’s. They’re special.
Having your medical clearance done is a big “WHEW!” moment. If everything is going as planned, your actual, real, written on paper and signed by people in blood orders come shortly thereafter.
This took place over about a two month period. Next task: the dog.