I have a dog. She is approximately 6 inches long and 6 inches high. She weighs 3 pounds, seldom barks and is trained to use paper when we can't go outside. Her favorite way to get around is to have me carry her in a black handbag that was built for carrying small dogs. It has a bone-shaped black mesh "window" and a clip to fasten to her harness. We also have a regulation soft-sided carrier so she can scoot under the seat on an airplane.
An airplane. Huh. Take a dog with you on the plane? Only if you are willing to pledge your first-born and all your back teeth and you are in a country where they aren't terrified of dogs. Buses? The buses want you to put your innocent little baby in the belly with the luggage and the heat and the fumes. This seems to be especially true in countries that were once notorious for having live chickens in with the passengers.
I have smuggled her onto buses. And got caught at the other end, too. No return trip. That's a nightmare story for another time. This one is about getting the dogette from Costa Rica to Panama.
So, I had checked all possibilities and none of them looked good. For one thing, I had managed to accumulate a tiny amount of stuff in Costa Rica, mostly bedding and a few pots and pans, and I was very attached to my pillows in particular, hating the thought of leaving them behind. I concocted all sorts of elaborate schemes whereby I would roll the bedding into a black plastic bag, mash it all down really well and lash the bag to my duffle so that at the border and when changing buses I would be able to manage the duffle, the bedding bag, the backpack, my purse and the dog carrier. What folly.
In Costa Rica I had successfully smuggled the tiny dogette on both long distance and local buses many times in her closed carrier. She is very quiet and most people don't even notice her. However, Panama tends to be a bit more uptight about rules and regs than Costa Rica. In Panama the enforcers are soldiers serious about their work. In Costa Rica they did away with the military some twenty years ago. So learning that Panama was officially no more welcoming to dogs than Costa Rica was definitely an Oh, s_ _t_ moment.
What to do? I thought about renting a car. Alas, not possible for various reasons. I ran scenarios where I took taxis between towns. That actually might have worked pretty well, looking at it in retrospect. Taxis are less expensive in Panama than they are in Costa Rica. It certainly wouldn't have cost more than the option I chose.
In any case, how I would get myself, my stuff and la dogette to Panama fell into the category of what Alan Tutt, an excellent teacher of manifesting, calls "The Dread Hows." When you desire to manifest something, the instruction is to focus on the desired outcome and let the universe work on "how" to make it happen. I have always been pretty good at manifesting for myself, but I never really realized before this very moment that IS what I do. At first I run through all the options I can think of for accomplishing what I want and if none of them suit, I don't worry about it. I just keep going with the other aspects of my objective and something viable invariably turns up in the empty sector. It just sort of drops into my lap.
So I stopped fussing about modes of transportation and instead began organizing la dogette's paperwork.
Now I had already gone through an intense series of hassles with the dogette's paperwork back in the States. Costa Rica and Panama both require a rabies shot within 1 year and a certificate of good health. I had both those things when I left North Carolina, but the customs officer in the San Jose airport KEPT the International Health Certificate, which had cost me over $100 USD to get by the time I finished paying for the veterinary exam, the form, and Fedex both ways to get it to and from the appropriate government agency in a timely fashion. The customs official wasn't supposed to KEEP the certificate, he was supposed to stamp it and give it back. I was so upset! But there wasn't a thing I could do about it except get another health certificate in Costa Rica. They told me it would cost me another $100 USD.
So I put it off and put it off. But after I finally decided on a date of departure, I realized I had to deal with it and went down to get the certificate. The vet had previously told me I should do it two weeks in advance of my departure date.
This vet, who shall remain nameless because I haven't a lot of nice things to say about him, showed up for our appointment an hour late. His "exam" consisted of holding the dog up in the air and turning her from side to side. "Hmm, she looks good," he pronounced. However, in spite of the fact that her rabies shot was current and did not need to be repeated for 6 months, he thought we had better give her one anyway. The system in the US where each shot is numbered and the number is on the tag, on the certificate and recorded with the state is not good enough in Costa Rica to prove your dog has been vaccinated, so it was necessary to have a Costa Rican rabies shot or the officials would not pass the health certificate. Or so he said. As he was only charging me $40 for the form and another $16 for the "exam" and getting the paperwork handled, and I wasn't going to be able to get her into Panama without the shot, I agreed, for $5. So finally I was in possession of the stamped paperwork, and then I found out that he had done only half the job! The stamped paper had to go to San Jose and be stamped some more!
So I hopped a bus ($6) for the 3 hour trip over the "Mountain of Death" to San Jose, where I took a 15 minute taxi ride ($7) to the address provided by the consulate as the place of stamping. But no! Animals? No! This was the Ministry of Agriculture and "We never do animals! Never! Never! Never! You must take this to Zapote!"
And where is that? Someplace way out there ($13). My taxista, who was the nicest man, got lost. To his credit once he knew he was lost he turned off the meter until we arrived. There we first encountered folks who wanted to send us someplace else, mostly based on my bad Spanish and the taxista's limited understanding of the situation, until someone actually looked at the paperwork and realized we really were in the right place. At that point they delivered us into the hands of one of the good Doctors in the department who, incidentally, spoke perfect English. A very witty man, he gave me a rundown on how to get a dog across the Panamanian border. If you fly, he told me, you must have all your t's crossed and your i's dotted. You must have your health certificate with it's stamp, and proof of a rabies shot. You must get signatures from the correct agricultural attorneys and you must go to the Department of Exterior Relations and be stamped. Also you must be prepared to pay the "Home Quarantine F'ee" (translation: bribe) of $140 when you arrive in the airport so that your dog will not be impounded for 30 days.
However, if you are driving, he told me, it is a different story and everything depends on the official who is working at the border that day. You need only the health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination. Sometimes you do need the signatures of the attorneys, sometimes not. "Fortunately I am an attorney and since you have already paid, let's just stamp this now and I will sign it and put the embossing seal on it."
He then told me that it has been demonstrated that you can hire someone to watch the dog while you go through the border-crossing process. Then, once you are safely on the other side you could simply whistle for the dog, which would then make the crossing on its own, sans paperwork.
A wonderful apocryphal tale, no? Full of defiance and the derring-do of pirates and revolutionaries other scoff-laws. Personally, I would never be willing to risk my baby that way, plus the story does not say what happens at the control checkpoint where the soldiers stop your car and demand to see your processed paperwork for the car and passports. An obvious dog passenger… hmm.
OK. So I had all the t's crossed and he insisted that I did not need to cross the final i since I was not flying. So we skipped the Department of Exterior Relations and my taxista delivered me ($14) back to the station for my bus ride back across the Mountain of Death ($6). Adding it up, we see that $40 + $16 + $5 + $6 + $7 + $13 +$14 +$6 = $107 which is $7 more than I would had had to pay a vet who knew his business, not to mention that I could have spent the day at the pool instead of taxiing around San Jose in the heat. So unless you are already IN San Jose and have a car with air conditioning and all the time in the world, if you are ever offered a deal on an international health certificate for your dog in Costa Rica, run the other way!
To be continued…