Early last month, Kenneth and Emily Sanders learned the Navy was transferring them from Norfolk to Guam at the end of February.
The transfer was somewhat unexpected because Kenneth, a petty officer second class and master-at-arms, and his wife had only been at Norfolk Naval Station, Va., for about a year after returning from a stint in Bahrain.
But the real shock came weeks later when the couple learned how much it would cost to ship their two beloved German shepherds, Nautia and Phoenix, to Guam: $11,592.
The couple find themselves being squeezed by an onerous flight route that spans half the globe and by United Airlines’ decision last year to stop transporting large dogs.
The couple set up a GoFundMe account in hopes of defraying the cost of shipping the pair of 8-year-old dogs. By the last week of January, they’d raised almost $1,000.
“I’m smart enough to know that I probably won’t reach anywhere near my goal,” Emily Sanders said. “My family and friends are great. They’re supporting me and I’m so thankful for that. But that’s a lot of money.”
They plan on using credit cards to pay the bill.
“I know they have a high interest rate, but, what’s a girl to do?” she said.
The couple, who have no children, got Nautia from a Tennessee backyard breeder when she was 3 months old and stunted in growth. A month later they got Phoenix.
“I felt like [Nautia] was lonely and needed a sister, so I got her a sister,” she said.
Nautia is “prissy” and clinging; the bold Phoenix “loves everyone and everything,” she said.
She recalled that it cost only about $250 to ship each dog when they had traveled on Delta Airlines on the flight the couple took to Bahrain.
But dog transport for military members became thornier in the wake of a high-profile incident early last year, resulting in United Airlines changing its pet-shipping policy.
During a United flight in March from Houston to Newark, a flight attendant insisted that the owners of a French bulldog in a pet carrier be placed in an overhead bin instead of beneath the seat where such crates are normally placed. The dog suffocated during the flight.
In response, on June 18 United banned transporting snub-nosed dogs and cats, as well as breeds of dogs regarded as “strong-jawed,” out of concern for “higher adverse health risks,” according to the policy.
But the airline also stopped hauling pet crates taller than the 30-inch-high Series 500 carrier.
United told Sanders that Nautia and Phoenix require the next largest crate, Series 700, for shipping, which by the airline’s own policy, it will not carry, she said.
The Sanders had routinely shipped their dogs in Series 500 crates, including their trips to and from Bahrain, but United will not allow them to use Series 500 carriers because the dogs’ ears and tails touch the crate’s ceiling, she said.
Aside from that, she said, United’s new policy of excluding big dogs seems to have little to do with potential breathing problems for snub-nosed dogs while aboard planes.
Meanwhile, Delta is unable to ship the dogs to Guam because of its own policy restrictions.
“Delta won’t allow a dog on one flight more than 12 hours for health reasons,” Emily Sanders said.
Delta would allow the dogs to travel in the smaller Series 500 crates, with a potential route to Los Angeles, then a flight to Guam. But the shortest-duration flight time — including connections — to Los Angeles is 12 hours and 5 minutes, she said.
“We couldn’t find any shorter connections,” she said.
Leo Mendoza, the owner of South Korea-based Shindogs Air, has collected more than 120,000 signatures on a petition he began last year on change.org urging United to ease its policy on big and strong-jawed dogs.
“Historically, United has been the only affordable option for big dogs, as other airlines cost up to 3-4 times as much,” wrote Mendoza, whose business specializes in moving pets to and from Asia for servicemembers.
Getting big dogs to and from Guam is “extremely difficult,” Mendoza told Stars and Stripes.
“The only airline that accepts them out of Guam is Korean Air,” he said. “We have to fly them here, to Seoul, and then from here use a European airline to send them to the states.”
That’s basically how Nautia and Phoenix will have to make the trip to Guam, using pet-transport companies that manage the move.
For a fee of $5,692, the dogs will fly on Lufthansa from Washington, D.C., to Amsterdam, where they will spend the night.
They then fly to South Korea, where they will require veterinarian’s health certificates for import into that country. Once that import paperwork is completed, they will stay at a pet hotel overnight.
For another fee of $5,900, they will then fly to Guam, where they will need a new set of health certificates.
The Sanders will then pick them up, $11,592 later.
“I don’t mind paying to ship my dogs; I’m going to do it no matter what,” Sanders said. “But the way this is playing out, we’re having to go with these pet-shipping companies who use foreign airlines, like Korean Air.”
Sanders said that as someone in a U.S. military household, “it just doesn’t seem right that we have to use these foreign airlines and be charged this much.”
Stars and Stripes asked United if it had considered the petition request to once again ship large dogs.
“We’re going to do what’s in the best interest of our customers and in the best interest of the animals,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart. “We know these pets are part of the family.”
Nautia and Phoenix will be 12 when the Sanders’ three-year assignment to Guam is completed, and the dogs will then likely generate another huge moving bill.
She’s already planning to sock away hundreds of dollars each month to prepare for that day. “I’ve already got that in the back of my mind,” she said.
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