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It was an emotional moment. Excited by a move to work as a journalist in Israel, my wife and I were taking the little one to the Middle East for the first time.
Bringing our baby to the Holy Land was hardly painless. Over many months we had to get her a passport, vaccinations, a kennel and an abundance of paperwork.
But watching as she wolfed down the kosher kebab they gave her on the flight to Tel Aviv, we figured everything would be okay.
Then she started to bark.
Our "babyâ€š" at the time a five-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, became increasingly uneasy about the claustrophobia of spending four hours in a large steel tube being propelled by roaring jet engines to speeds unbefitting of a spoiled canine.
The barking led to howling, the howling to jumping, the jumping to diarrhea, and you can imagine the rest.
This is the kind of conundrum that Terminal4Pets, an Israeli pet-transport service, specializes in.
A "pioneer in pet travel in Israel," the company has launched an "Aliya for Pets" project, encouraging families coming here to bring their pets with them.
"Sometimes the question of whether or not to come to Israel comes down to the pets," says Eytan Kreiner, the founder and CEO of Terminal4Pets. "We are Jewish people, our place is here, and every Jewish person should join us. We don't want a Jew overseas to be faced with the pain of bringing their pet and decide not to move to Israel.
"I'm a veterinarian, so the way I can contribute is by giving them special deals and helping them bring their pets here," he says. "We tell them 'Guys, we need you here, you should be here. Call us and we'll get your pet here simply, safely and make your dream come true.'"
A quick call from the US to 1-866-PET-2-FLY and you will be offered a number of pet travel solutions from the dedicated team of vets, pet handlers and "veteran pet travel agents," including high-class, custom-made kennels, flight kits, customs-clearance assistance, VIP (Very Important Pet) service to meet and greet your pet upon arrival in Israel, and a "pet shuttle" to take your pet to its new home. The company even gives new arrivals a handy Hebrew-English "pet" dictionary.
"It's a need that nobody else takes care of," says Eran Kolran, director of marketing at Terminal4Pets. "Most people who have pets see their pets as family members, and they want to know that they are safe. But we found that a lot of people are confused about how to send their animals, and there are lots of disaster stories.
"You need to check with the airlines, the country you are leaving and the country you are going to, whether the kennel can fit into the plane, what kind of kennels you need, what kinds of vaccinations you need, even the weather," he said.
Terminal4Pets has been in operation since
2004, and its parent veterinary service was
founded in 1991. With aliya on the rise in 2009, Terminal4Pets decided to capitalize on the trend, offering its customers a free day in a kennel upon arrival and free veterinary vaccination and consultation services for the pet's first year in Israel.
"We fly thousands of animals each year," Kolran says. "We provide customers with a one-stop shop: ticketing, buying and preparing the kennel, making sure that the air conditioner is on and that the pet is tied properly, cleaning and pampering the pet, giving them a veterinary checkup after the flight and taking care of all the veterinary work on arrival."
But it's not only puppies and kittens making "aliya"; Terminal4Pets also has helped giraffes, crocodiles, chinchillas, snakes and exotic birds come here.
"Our core business is domesticated animals such as dogs, cats and ferrets," Kolran says. "We don't usually do these things, but we have experience transporting more exotic animals such as crocodiles, birds, lab mice and horses, and we are always open."
"Once we even brought a hippo from Eastern Europe," he says. "A Jewish philanthropist from Kiev wanted to contribute a Hippo to Israel. The challenge was that the hippo had to be wet throughout the entire flight, so we explored wet towels and all sorts of kennel-based sprinkler systems. We built a custom kennel, dealt with all the regulations, met the hippo at the airport and got it to Israel safely. It was an interesting experience."
"We also have a lot of interesting bird stories," he adds. "Birds are very complicated because they have a very high heart rate and they have to be very calm during the flight."
Kolran says many customers come to Terminal4Pets after unpleasant experiences.
"People often think they can do it themselves,"
he says. "The problem with that is if you are not experienced you usually only know part of the story. You need to know the different flight regulations, the ramifications of picking the wrong kennel, etc. So people often arrive at the airport and the pet might not make it on the plane or have to endure a lot of pain."
"It's not a nice situation to be in," he adds. "We use our experience to avoid this and make sure the pet arrives safe and simple."
"We have to make sure that we treat pets as if they were our own," Kreiner says. "We have a person bringing 27 pets to Israel in a few months. For her they are her babies and all of them are precious. So it's not like you are sending a UPS parcel. There are no second chances."
Terminal4Pets's flight-management services costs about $275, and the airport-companion VIP service is about $200.