Leaving Peru without Zorrito
One of the hardest things about leaving Peru when I finished my Peace Corps service aside from leaving my friends and community was leaving behind my dog, Zorrito.
Zorrito was a stray I found wandering around along the road in my community. Some of my students told me that they saw someone toss him out of a car as they were passing through. When I found him, Zorrito was skittish and easily frightened. He seemed to be scared of everything. After asking around to see if he had an owner with no success, I decided to adopt him. Resembling a little fox, I named him “Zorrito” for its Spanish translation.
I had originally planned on bringing Zorrito home with me when I first left Peru but Peace Corps bought my return ticket on Delta and they only allowed small pets to fly in the cabin, not in cargo. Zorrito was unfortunately too big to fly in the cabin. This being the case, I looked into registering him as an emotional support animal so he could fly in the cabin with me. As it turns out, all that is required to register your pet as an emotional support pet is a letter from a therapist and ya está (that’s it). You can even get them online without ever having to see an actual therapist. I ended up deciding against this option, however, because I was hesitant about the possible repercussions of identifying myself as having a disability or issue which I did not actually have, so I also ruled out this alternative.
The Runaround in Washington
Once back in D.C., I started investigating ways to bring Zorrito home. The next option I looked into was pet shipping. I quickly learned, however, that it was extremely expensive. I looked into shipping with Pet Express and they gave me a quote of a whopping $2,851.00. At that price, I could fly to Peru roundtrip five times! I quickly ruled out pet shipping.
After discovering that pet shipping was no longer an option I started asking around to see if any of my Peace Corps friends from the D.C. area who were still in Peru would be willing to bring Zorrito back with them. I was fortunate enough to find someone to offer but when I checked with the airline (JetBlue), I discovered that they also didn’t allow pets to fly in cargo. So, I went back to the drawing board.
I finally decided that the option that made the most sense was to just go back to Peru and bring Zorrito back myself. I found out from another Peace Corps friend that she was able to bring her dog home from Peru on American Airlines so knowing that it worked for her, I decided to try and do the same.
When I called American Airlines, I soon discovered that many people were not on the same page. For several days, I was given the runaround. Each person I talked to gave me different information and one person even told me that flying with pets (both in cabin and cargo) was not one of their policies. When I spoke to someone who did acknowledge their pet policy and I tried to make a reservation, I was frequently referred to the AA Cargo staff in Peru, who was not responding to my emails or phone calls. When I finally did get a hold of the AA Cargo staff in Peru, I was told that they, in fact, have nothing to do with making the reservation for a pet you are flying with and told me that I needed to contact the airline directly.
Finally Making Progress
By this point, I was becoming quite frustrated but I wasn’t ready to give up. After making several phone calls, I finally spoke to someone at the American Airlines Reservation Office in Lima who was able to make the reservation for Zorrito. They required that I first purchase my ticket but afterward they were able to add Zorrito’s reservation on the same flight.
On November 3, 2017, I flew back to Peru to get Zorrito and bring him home. While I was there, I took advantage and went back to visit my community as well as the people that are near and dear to me. 10 days later, Zorrito checked in to LATAM airlines in Cajamarca where took his first flight from Cajamarca to Lima.
Everything went smoothly at check-in in Cajamarca, the agent reviewed Zorrito’s documents: immunization records, health certificate (within 10 days of travel), immunization certificate, and acclimation letter. Normally LATAM charges $25 to fly pets on domestic flights within Peru but since Zorrito had an XL kennel for extra legroom, they charged $90.
Once in Lima, I picked Zorrito up from an agent in baggage claim and we checked in to our next flight. I presented his documents and was informed that the flight was delayed 3 hours (from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm). Fortunately, the agent allowed me to check in the kennel and my suitcase but take Zorrito with me until an hour and a half before the flight. While waiting, I took Zorrito around the airport where he made several friends. After I took him outside the airport to do his business in the grass in front of Hotel Costa del Sol.
Finally, the time came to put Zorrito back in his kennel and board the flight. The seven-hour flight seemed endless as I worried about Zorrito and wondered if he would make it safely.
Around midnight we landed at Washington, Dulles and as soon as I was able to get off the plane I immediately rushed to baggage claim to get Zorrito. Twenty minutes later, Zorrito was wheeled in on a cart, safe and sound, by a LATAM agent. I graciously took the cart from the agent and proudly wheeled him to a nearby vendor who was kind enough to lend me a butcher knife that I used to cut off the plastic seals on Zorrito’s Kennel. “There’s something you don’t see in an airport every day” a man joked as he observed me release Zorrito.
Zorrito, happy to be free from his kennel, jumped in excitement and waged his tail ecstatically. As reached down to get him a hug I breathed a sigh of relief as whispered in his ear, “you’re home little boy”.