Feline Fiasco!


“Cats don’t like change…without their consent.” ~Roger Caras

Furry Friend Happy Owner

My cat only speaks Spanish.

This is a loose reference to Baxter the dog in Anchorman (the movie), and a constant joke in our household.  And besides, I can’t understand a word my cat says, much like my Colombian in-laws.

And that’s both good and bad.  Bad because she’s moving to Japan, where she won’t be able to get away with feigning ignorance of indigenous language.  Good because I don’t understand the bitching I’m sure she’s doing while we are packing…and that to come while we are moving.

This is close, but not true.

This is close, but not true.

And she also doesn’t understand how closely she came to NOT going to Japan with us.  You see, the Navy and the government are involved in most every aspect of this move.  Need I say more?

Way back when, months ago, when Jody put in our travel request, we made it very clear that we were traveling with pets.  Nothing abnormal that would or should cause any concern, like, say, an Asian Tiger, for either the Navy or the somewhat proud owners of a smallish female Tabby who, in our backyard, tends to think of herself as said Asian Tiger….

This is true for all cats I think.  Except the fat ones.

This is true for all cats I think. Except the fat ones.

If you agree, you’d think wrong.

You see, the first hurdle in traveling with pets to Japan is actually with the Japanese.  However, having been there – with cats (yes, plural, *sigh*) – I had a leg-up on those requirements.  Time being the main concern.

While I understand that no country wants to import animals with disease, how is it that the humans they do allow in are not screened at all?  It’s a very odd situation if you think about it.  Aids, SARS, influenza, hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, yellow fever, chicken pox; one would think all these diseases would be at least of equal concern!  However, Cleo, our cat (“Cleopatra” is her full name, sister to Alex “Alexander the Great,” who went missing 15 months ago *SIGH*), has these requirements placed on her:

  • Be micro-chipped….  Check.
  • Have two rabies shots…30 days apart, and prior to 6 months entering the country….  Check.
  • Have a blood titer drawn and confirmed…at least 180 days prior to import….  Check.
  • Submit notification to import a domestic animal to Japanese authorities…and have it approved…at least 10 days prior to travel….  Check (ApprovalNonF_EN_sofa).
  • See a USDA-certifying vet within tens days of travel to have issues an International Health Certification (which itself is only good for 10 days)….  That’s for next week….

However, the most important requirement is to figure out transportation for your animal so that she can actually get to Okinawa!

Okay, not hard.  Many families in the military have pets, and surely the Navy knows how to arrange transportation!

Not for us.

We get our flight arrangements – finally – after waiting like 2 months, and we are being forced to utilize a military charter flight referred to as “AMC:”  Air Mobility Command.  While this is nothing more than a chartered commercial airliner, complete with civilian aircrew, it is the biggest red-ass you can ever imagine.  More on that in a bit, or, better yet, see my previous blog on AMC buffoonery!

Fine.  Red our asses, Navy, it’s all part of the “fun.”

Except our cat is “not confirmed.”

What?  What the hell does that mean?  Unfortunately for Jody and I, we mistook or misinterpreted the flight email to imply that they would keep trying to confirm our pet…mainly because that’s exactly what it said.  You know what “they” say though, don’t you:  you can’t trust the government.

After weeks of hearing nothing, and after fighting the Navy for some domestic travel arrangements that actually make sense, and after planning to spend a day getting to Seattle, getting a hotel room, and then catching the AMC flight the next morning, we finally call about our pet and, well, they’re sorry, but “they” made mission by getting us on an AMC flight, and that “they” were worry but the pet is really “our concern.”


It's in Spanish.  No idea what it says....

It’s in Spanish. No idea what it says….

There is only one flight a week to Okinawa from the states, at least on AMC.  Fine.  I understand that quite possibly – although I remain unconvinced – it is cheaper than commercial ticketing.  However, why on earth would “they” not put on us an AMC flight that had a pet allocation for us?  The flight the week before AND week after both had room for our pet, but changing our plans so late in the game would cause a whole cascade of issues.  Like pet-friendly room-arrangements in Okinawa.  Like we already have a renter for our house and we have nowhere to live.  Like the moves are all set up and we are losing the vast majority of our schtick!  Changing the AMC flight is really not an option, or, not a very good option.

Oh, but the Navy has a solution:  we are allowed to “delay up to 20 days en route.”  So, this is what “they” expect, given this authority.  We go to Seattle, and hope that, by using some form of Harry Potter magic that a pet slot opens on our flight (not likely).  If not, we stay in a hotel – in a city we don’t know, without a car but with a cat, who relies on an international health certificate that is only good for 10 days, AND, to be renewed, has to be done by a military vet OR a USDA official….  Really?  It’s really beyond belief that this is an approach that the Navy would take, an approach that would negate any cost-savings from flying AMC since “they” would be reimbursing us for hotel and per diem fees!!

Okay, Plan B…C…and maybe Q.

First.  Can we send the cat as cargo?  Oddly enough, we can.  It is not easy, nor cheap, AND, the cat can only be sent once we are in-country in Japan, so we would have to rely on some very good friends to help us out.  We don’t have many of those.

My dream for Cleo:  Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

My dream for Cleo: Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

Next.  How can we get out of the AMC flight?  The one that requires TWO days of travel and showing up for a flight at 2:30am for an 8:30am departure (true story), AND, stops twice in Japan before we get to Japan?  Well, there’s an instruction called the “Defense Travel Regulations….”

The DTRs state that the “mode” of dependent travel cannot be specified, or at least cannot be specified to either a military aircraft or military contracted aircraft.  So, I play the “I’m not playing your game Navy and you can’t make me play” game!  This would result in Jody, as the active duty servicemember having still to fly AMC, but me – and Cleo the non-English speaking cat – to fly commercial.  Fine.

Before forcing the issue, Jody has the good (common) sense to contact her detailer (the person in charge of the permanent change of station) to ask some advice.  Her detailer has an even better, if not graceful solution:  “circuitous travel.”  This means that we fly commercial, that we pick the routing and flights (where we can ensure that Cleo has a seat as well), and that we avoid two full days of travel (for only one) and the silly-assed rules and requirements that the Navy puts on flying AMC….

So, after three more days coordinating pet travel with two different airlines and agricultural officials at Narita airport in Tokyo, Cleo is going with us.  But nothing’s quite that easy, is it?  One leg requires us to have our cat in the cabin, while another requires us to put her in the cargo hold.  So, we will be hand-carrying a soft carrier and checking a hard-case!  That’s a lot of luggage for an eleven pound cat.

Who doesn’t even wear clothes or use a toiletry kit.

The water bowl however can always be half-full.  Even though we don’t have a military vet in Pensacola and now have to travel 1.5 hours (each way) to Eglin AFB for Cleo’s health certificate – and she really hates car rides, we are all traveling together on this great adventure.  And I’m sure that Jody is, at least, relieved to have Cleo with us physically in the cabin most of the way.  After all, family is family, and while the Navy doesn’t seem to realize or acknowledge this, our pets are every bit part of our families as we are.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  I’m not sure what Gandhi would think of our situation, but…

…I sure am glad Cleo only speaks Spanish.  She remains blissfully ignorant of moral issues involved in her moving to Okinawa!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!

“Always Listen to your Momma”

Kevin's Childhood Shot Record_edited-1

Or, “So you wanna follow your Prettiest-Nurse-in-the-Navy wife to Okinawa, do ya?”

Well you’d better have your shots up-to-date, Mister!

So, there’s the Holy Grail required to go overseas with a military spouse:  the DEA.  No, nothing to do the Drug Enforcement Agency, nor anything remotely close to a Data Encryption Algorithm (although give it time and the Navy will connect a dependent’s entry to BOTH), but the DEA is a document called “Dependent Entry Approval,” the couple of pages of paper that officially allow me to travel to and enter Okinawa as a “command-sponsored” dependent of an Active Duty member in the Navy….  Oh, and it prohibits two things (and only two things):  1) firearms (there is such thing as reasonable gun control & ownership in the world, contrary to popular belief & mystery in America), and 2) pornography.  Where is the fun these days in the military??

Blah-blah-blah.  What one doesn’t understand is the near (in)action of Congress that is required to get this dang document.  Case-in-point:  shots & immunizations.

So, as some of you may know, I’m a retired Navy officer myself.  Who’s been stationed in Okinawa TWICE before, for a total of four years.  AND, I deployed, numerous times, to numerous war zones.  Oh, and I maintained “Flight Status” for 20 years.  Big deal, you might say.  Well, this is all to mean that one just may think that just maybe I maintained my shots for all that time in the military, while have annual flight physicals, while deploying over and over again….

One might thing.  But then again, military intelligence is, as they say, an oxymoron.

So, during my medical screening at the Navy Hospital here in town, the Doc asked about shots.  I informed her – a Physician’s Assistant – that I was pretty sure I was good, and that my medical record should have everything there since I had recently retired, and retired here in Pensacola.  Cool.  Smiles all around.  “I’ll review your record and let you know,” she responded as we parted ways.

Weeks go by.  Nothing heard.

Then, in the prototypical “your-crisis-shouldn’t-be-my-emergency,” an Overseas Screening staff member calls me one day “looking for my shot record.”  Well, I inform the junior Petty Officer, “It’s in my medical record.”  “Oh, okay, of course.  We’ll look for that; I need your full SSN.”  Odd, I think:  seriously, you don’t or can’t find my full social security number?  Fine, passed, done deal.

More time goes by.

Turns out that my record cannot be located at the hospital.  The hospital where I have been treated since 2005.  The military treatment facility (MTF) that retired me, that assumed control of my medical record at retirement!  Turns out that it “appears” that my record has been archived, but amazingly enough, there is no firm trail, paper or otherwise.  Let’s ignore all the HIPAA implications at present.

Well, I have a copy of my shot record, and, in fact, a copy of my ENTIRE medical record, since copies are required at retirement for the VA.  However, that copy was only current as of 2008, and I couldn’t quite remember if I had gotten more shots.  More importantly, I am the type of person that likes to FORCE processes to show when those processes are either archaic or just plain broken.  Oh, and I like people to do their jobs at the same time as well.

As you might guess, this process was just plain broken:  no sign, no record, not even a hint of a medical record, let alone shot record to deploy to Okinawa!

So, numerous discussion ensue.  “You all realize that I’m a retired aviator, and certainly not only met entry requirements into the military, but maintained all those shot requirements for 20 years?”  “You guys realize that I actually deployed where smallpox and anthrax shots were required, and given those, don’t you think I had the MMR as a child??”  “Oh, and you realize that I actually was successfully screened to live in Japan, TWICE before, while on active duty?!?”  Or, thinking to myself, do you really think that all those checks in the military over 24 years (counting ROTC) missed some blatantly obvious shots that are, in fact, required for secondary school registration!

Sorry, need the “proof.”

Fine, Jody says.  She’s in the medical loop, and attempts to direct the junior Petty Office at overseas screening to access the electronic version of my shot record.  This version, a relative stand-alone document in the Navy’s medical world, specific to immunizations (as best I understand it), is not accessible by just anyone – wouldn’t want the overseas screening staff to actually be able to screen someone for overseas duty.  Turns out they can’t access this record.  Although I would prefer to push the issue and make THEM find a way, Jody accesses it herself, and sends a copy to overseas screening.  Oh, and she actually goes through my ENTIRE few hundred pages of medical record and finds all the areas where my shots & immunizations are annotated….

Not good enough.  No, there’s no proof of chicken pox (shots or the disease), and oh no, I need a flu shot!  Okay, we’ll handle these issues one-at-a-time.

I’m no conspiracy theorists, but I do harbor a healthy mistrust of the military (read:  government), shots, and my body.  Not that they are out to get me, but just that they have generally a pretty dismal record of, well, not even just not caring, but of maliciously doing things that are ethically questionable by any other reasonable standard.  Not that the flu shot falls into this category of concern (it does not), but then again I don’t fall into the at-risk population for that particular disease.  In my final personal analysis, I choose, for a number of (personal) reasons, not to take the flu shot/mist since retiring….

And they can’t make me.  You see, I’m not longer active duty, but a mere dependent.  Which means I am not their (government) property, as the cliché goes….

So, I tell Jody that they are going to have to show me in writing where the flu shot is required for me to do that.  I feign aggressiveness at calling the fraud, waste, & abuse hotline, as well as the inspector general at my “missing” medical record and all the privacy concerns that raises.  So, Jody goes back to overseas screen and asks about their “list” of “requirements” for dependents’ entry into Japan.  “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan.”  “So, is it a requirement, or a recommendation??”  “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan….”  Enough said.  I take that as a recommendation only.  No flu shot for this guy.

Finally, we come down to chicken pox.  Now I understand there is a resurgence of chicken pox, mainly because of failures in early childhood vaccination, or adults who were never vaccinated (properly).  Worse yet, there is no record of those shots for me:  I had the chicken pox as a child.  How the heck do you prove that?  Well, the Navy can draw blood and check something called blood “titers” for the right level of antibodies….  Needles?  Needles are worse than spiders, but just barely.  Another medical appointment and trip to the hospital to be treated poorly and seen late?  Heck no to both, I claim!  Don’t get me started on spiders….

So, I do have my original medical shot record from when I was an infant and child (pictured above).  Thanks to my Mother who insisted on copies, and insisted – and taught me how valuable and critical such a document was and remains.  It looks nothing like anything official; a collection of typed and hand-written notes on lined paper, some with date stamps, others with scribbled initials or signatures.  But it certainly is enough to show all those childhood requirements…once the medical hieroglyphics are deciphered and penmanship failures are placed.

But how do you prove that you’ve had chicken pox when you were a kid, like in the early 1970s?  C’mon.  Well, let’s just say that Photoshop is my friend, and that early childhood record captures my run-in with chicken pox just fine…NOW.

So, after all this back & forth over shots, after ignoring my own military service and previous overseas screening for Japan, after all the searching and attempts at accessing my health records, it all came down to a much-photocopied single piece of paper of immunizations which has really no possible means of positive verification.

And this, Ladies & Gentlemen, is what was ultimately accepted.  And I have my all-important DEA to follow Jody halfway around the world.  Thanks Mom, seriously.

Now, about those guns and porn…(wink).