“Come here for a second, Russ, you have to see this …”

En route from Racine, Wisconsin, to Jacksonville, Florida, where I had accepted the call to pastor an interdenominational church, we stopped to pick up some cat food for the kitty we’d rescued.

“What do you want to show me?” Russ asked, his hands holding catnip and toys for our three-day drive from the upper Midwest to the lower Southeast.

“Look!” I pointed at a small white puppy playing alone in a kennel crate, rolling over repeatedly and making the funniest faces.

“Cute,” Russ contributed.

“Can we ask to see him in one of the cubicles and play with him a bit? The dog is a Miniature Schnauzer. Have you ever seen a white one?”

“But we’ve got a three-day drive ahead of us,” Russ interjected. “Besides, it’s a male.”

We’d never had a male dog, always assuming females were friendlier, easier to train, more obedient and loyal.

(You know what’s said about ass-u-me!)

Discretion being the lesser part of valor when it comes to canines in our lives, within 30 minutes the puppy had become the newest member of our family … accompanied by bags filled with food, toys, and treats.

The little boy and I bonded during our drive to the sunshine state, me driving and he lounging comfortably on the rented Chevy Tahoe’s massive center console. Russ had the cat in his car, growling at him.

We named our new family member Jackson – Jax for short – in respect to our Florida destination. It was there that he’d have his first bath, his first grooming, his first set of rabies and distemper shots, his first taste of a poison (“Comfortis”) pill his sensitive system couldn’t quite handle to combat the ferocious fleas and ubiquitous bugs – flying, crawling, hiding, biting – inhabiting the same space that we did.

Walking him around our block in the Springfield area where we lived, I would sometimes encounter a gentleman walking his two dogs: a tiny Yorkshire and a larger black one that looked like another terrier.

“Is that a Scottie?” I asked.

“No. She’s a black Schnauzer.”

“I’ve never seen a black Schnauzer …”

“And I’ve never met a white one!” he said.

Jackson is the smartest, most sensitive, and affectionate dog we’d ever adopted. Yes, males can be quite loving. Still, when the cat had passed on, we decided to find Jax a female companion.

# # # # #

The chance of finding any Schnauzers in the classified ads of our local back-home-in-Virginia newspaper was next to nil. Yet, there was the ad: “Miniature Schnauzers. Home-raised. Parents on premises …”

“Should we call?” I asked Russ.

No answer was needed.

“Hi, I’m calling about your newspaper ad for Miniature Schnauzers,” I began when the phone was answered. “We’re looking for something very specific: a sweet black female. I don’t suppose you have one?”

“Actually, we do. Two pups are left: a black bitch and a salt-and-pepper male, the runt of the litter. Want to see them?”

“We’ll be right there,” I informed the pets’ surrogate parents. Looking at Russ, I then matter-of-factly stated, “You know what this means.”

The black girl was exactly what we’d hoped for; but the little silver and gray boy was totally unexpected: a bundle of joy that jumped into our laps, licked our throats, and rolled over for his belly to be rubbed. Russ shot me a look that clearly declared, “We’re not leaving with one dog. Either both of them are coming home with us, or neither will.”

That’s how we came to have three dogs – the “children,” as we refer to them – who totally have changed our lives.

# # # # #

If and when you decide to make a major move, to another country across the great pond, in addition to your own visa requirements, you need to ensure that all of your pets’ paperwork is properly presented. With pets originating in the European Union, you get official pet passports that enable them to cross borders. For pets coming into the EU from the USA, you work with your veterinarian and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complete comparable documents, reasonable facsimiles.

Before all this happens, however, you must deal with the airlines if you won’t allow your pets to be transported in the plane’s cargo hold.

Because of disabilities, physicians qualified our dogs as Emotional Support Animals to fly with us in the cabins of three American Airlines’ flights—between Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Madrid, Spain. Upon landing in Madrid, authorities hardly glanced at all the details and data included on the 11-page document. They simply scanned the spots where each of the dogs had a microchip inserted and confirmed their numbers matched the papers.

The person handling our rental car warned us that, in Spain and Portugal, dogs and cats must be “restrained” in vehicles, either by keeping them in their carriers or affixing them to the seat belt locks through a simple device where one side connects to their collars, the other to the seat belt buckles. Amazon sells a set for about ten dollars.

Somewhat comforted to find great vets who speak English, you make an appointment and bring your pets in for exams – “consultations” – where you spend over an hour together and more than €200 … which not only includes thorough exams, but eight-month collars to guard against fleas, ticks, and the dreaded Leishmaniasis, more medicine to combat it and yet more medicine to guard against heart worms.

“You must realize,” the vet warns, “that dogs and cats from other countries (i.e., the USA) are more susceptible to disease, mosquito bites, and attacks.” In a plastic bag are the medicines, dosages and schedules they’re to be given, brochures, and other paraphernalia; you’re handed directly three official pet passports (included in the fees), enabling your dogs or cats to travel between EU countries.

In exchange, you hand over your Multibanco card and cringe when the ticket prints out a receipt for two hundred and eight euros, equal to about US $242.00. Then you remember how much time the vet has spent with you and your three pooches; all the medications, pills, and elixirs you’ve received to take home; the three, 3-in-1 combination vaccines protecting your cherished ones against Bordetella bacteria, Canine Parainfluenza virus, and Adenovirus Type 2. How much would all that have cost you in the USA? Undoubtedly, a heck of a lot more!

And when the vet hands you the itemized “factura” (invoice), you learn that professional health care for your pets is tax-deductible here.

# # # # #

Pet passports in hand, you and your pets now need licenses from your local junta. “You will want to have them,” your veterinarian advises, since without licenses, the police can come and take away your pets if people make complaints.”

Each of our dogs gets a license. Just € 10 for the first year—for all three, less in following years. We leave with the distinguished documents, words offset by seals and stamps and signed by the junta’s president.

Just when we think there won’t be anything else the dogs need, the devil pays a house call: one, then the others, fall sick. We grieve their pain, discomfort, and suffering, even as we curse the ceaseless messes everywhere. So, we make another appointment with the vet.

This time we bring just Jax, as he’s the only one sick at the moment. Again, we’re impressed by the thoroughness of care and concern shown by our dog’s doctors: a physical exam … x-rays to ensure there’s no “foreign” matter in his intestines (or other internal parts) … nearly an hour’s worth of IV solution to replenish the liquids lost during his “accidents” and absence of appetite … antibiotics by injection … pills, antibiotics plus probiotics to help him heal at home … advice to boil a skinless breast of chicken and some rice, feeding him in small doses.

The veterinarian hands us two little bags of pills and her card with the practice’s 24-hour emergency line, then jots down her own personal phone number on it, too. “If Jax isn’t improving in 24 hours – or if he has any more problems – call and bring him back tomorrow,” she said.

Ninety-four euros. The bill for all that attention!

Jax began to improve almost immediately. But the two littles ones quickly came down with the same symptoms. We concluded the problem was food poisoning, not from something they’d picked up in the streets from well-meaning people who’d leave bones and gristle for the town’s homeless animals. No, the problem was with their food.

We’d purchased the best food available– dry and canned – in a shop similar to Fleet & Farm, since everything in the supermarkets has cereal as a primary ingredient and far too much fat for dogs who suffer from pancreatitis.

Forcing them to swallow their pills, followed by feeding them the boiled chicken and rice, all three quickly regained their health. Portuguese friends recommended a new pet supply shop that had just opened, where we purchased excellent low-fat and grain-free dry food: just two small bags (2-3 kgs), along with four cans of low-fat, “all-natural” food without any additives—turkey with raspberry, chicken with pineapple, chicken with apple, and chicken fillets.

With a new customer discount, our bill totaled € 33—almost US $40.

Whether standard, off-the-shelf supermarket brands heavy with fillers, or highly nutritious specialty foods found only in limited locations, pet foods are among those daily breads (or breeds) that can cost more here in Spain and Portugal than in the USA.

Even so, the money is well spent on health care for our families.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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