Sparky bids farewell to England at Heathrow's Terminal 2
It's not yet been a week since we repatriated to these shores, not too far from the same Potomac River George Washington's ancestor sailed up after crossing the Atlantic the slow way. We came across much faster, on a United jet, the last one to leave on Friday afternoon.
We chose United for their PetSafe program, which allows dogs to travel as checked baggage (with certain restrictions) and is especially geared for military and state department families who are relocating. The pet area of the baggage compartment is pressurized and temperature controlled and has enough room for five pets (but Sparky was by himself on the flight, which he prefers--more legroom).
We weren't sure what to expect when we arrived at Terminal 2 for the flight. All we knew is that we had to be there 3 hours early, with the required paperwork. The whole event turned out to be quite well managed and not at all stressful. We filled out the paperwork and paid for Sparky's travel, then were able to keep him with us until about an hour before the flight, when we went with him through a special security where his kennel was swabbed. Then we said goodbye to him, trying to be cheerful, and went through our own security and then to our gate.
(My last walk on British soil, I realize now, was the grassy area near Terminal 2, where we let Sparky relieve himself before the eight hour flight. I was too nervous to take note, frankly, of the fact I was leaving England for good, after ten years. If I had, I'd have watered the lawn with my tears.)
Once on board, we told Elle, the nice flight attendant, that we were traveling with our dog. She could tell right away how nervous we were, because she offered us Valium. Just kidding, she sold us a bottle (and then another) of red wine.
She also let the captain know that our dog would be on board (pets are loaded last). He talked to the baggage handlers who loaded Sparky onto the plane and reported back to us that all was well.
We were pretty stressed after the week of packing, dealing with the house, and taking care of last minute details in England. I tried to watch a film but I was too nervous. Elle said that sometimes they hear dogs barking in the rear of the plane, so I asked her to let us know if she heard anything. When the flight was over, she told us she'd not heard anything. Still, I couldn't rest until I saw them wheeling his kennel out in the baggage claim, while I was waiting in line at Immigration. The border agent stamped my documents quickly and I raced toward Sparky. He didn't start whining until he saw us, but the attendant who was wheeling him around wouldn't let us open the cage door.
Once we were near the arrivals entrance at Dulles, we let Sparky out and raced to find some grass outside, for his first pee on American soil.
This is Sparky's second "immigration"--he first came to England from Ireland, and now is an American dog, an American dog with a funny accent. He doesn't like the sweltering heat, or the thunderstorms that break overhead almost every evening, but he loves the abundance of squirrels and the woods near our house.
This land near the Potomac seems young to me, with wide open spaces (mostly in the medians of the highways, which are wide enough to build a housing estate) and garish churches made of brick, rather than aged stone. There are ditches rather than hedgerows and strip malls instead of high streets, and people here are downright eager to talk to strangers.
And I do feel like a stranger, a stranger in my own land.
I'll get used to it. I think.