When my husband’s posting order came saying we were to move to from Cyprus to Germany for just one year, it came as an enormous relief. Most families would have been horrified at the prospect of uprooting everything – home, schools, jobs, friends and pets for just one year; but all I could think of was how it would benefit our pets!
Most families leave behind small legacies of starting up choirs or being remembered for fund raising various events, but we were just remembered as the family that chose to travel with their chicken!
The cost of flying any pets from a European country (like Cyprus) to the UK was (and still is) very very costly. Our dear neighbours had been posted back to the UK and they chose to fly 1 guinea-pig at a cost of £750 as it all had to be managed by a pet travel company with strict rules of flying pets into the UK and they loved that little guinea pig called Nibbles. Any pets that fly within the EU, means that they are treated differently and owners can even choose to have their cats or puppies for example sitting on their laps during the flight!
The cost for our pets was so cheap – just €100 for both our dogs, €60 for the 2 guinea pigs in their tiny container, and Coco the chicken cost us just €40! I made Emily work out how many eggs Coco would have to lay to fund her flight as she generously gave us one beautiful blue egg every morning 🙂
Our next challenge was to have the correct paperwork in place to move 1 chicken from the tiny island of Cyprus to mainland Europe. Luckily my husband had forged a good working relationship with the local vet. He was a lovely kind man with a thick dark beard. He mumbled into his beard and we just couldn’t understand him, but his generosity will never be forgotten. He would invite us as a family to their local easter family parties where we would eat the traditional easter bread and mix with a variety of people I would never imagine meeting. One easter party, I was placed next to a retired Russian businessman who adored his dogs. Anything I said, he seemed to find enormously funny and his generous round belly would bounce up and down! In front of me was a Syrian painter who spoke very poor english and was living with a retired English lady who bred miniature horses on the island. In his broken english, he told us such desperate stories of the first hand horrors of the war in Syria and the mixture of conversations flowing around that table could not have been more different.
So when it meant that Coco needed all the necessary paperwork, our lovely bearded Cypriot vet didn’t hesitate to provide the necessary documents and suddenly we found ourselves all packed up with our 4 children and entire home contents and of course our beloved animals off to Germany.
The ground staff at the airport in Larnaca in Cyprus were not that interested when we checked in a chicken and barely glanced at the paperwork. Their main concern was the little container with 2 guinea-pigs. They are not common pets on the island and when one of the ladies requested that my husband take one out to inspect it; he carefully removed wide-eyed gentle Milo from his safe container; only to be told by the horrified attendant holding her arms outstretched, to put him back – she had never seen a guinea-pig before and she looked very frightened of harmless little Milo.
On arrival at Frankfurt airport is when the fun really started. We waited patiently while all the ‘oversized baggage’ in the hold arrived and we couldn’t wait to see our pets. The dogs each had their own carefully measured crates and they had stacked our very excited Labrador Slick on top of Ruff’s crate on a trolley. She was so excited to see us and began barking so madly that she almost toppled the entire crate from quite a height. To our relief, all 5 of our pets were fine and our adventure began.
I had to overcome one of my biggest fears – driving a left hand drive car on the Autobahn in Germany! I am not a confident driver at the best of times but I had no choice as we had so many pets and children that we had to hire 2 large Volvos to carry all our belongings and crates. I only agreed to it if my husband drove in front and I would follow closely behind as I also have absolutely no sense of direction and get lost so easily. We had walkie-talkies that the children used to communicate between the cars. All I remember is my husband telling me to stop driving in the middle of the road and please drive faster!! My heart was racing the entire journey and when we finally arrived at our little hotel halfway between Frankfurt and our final destination and future home for the year; I was relieved.
It was a typical german hotel in the small town of Bad Homburg. It looked like a home from the outside as it was mid-terrace slotted between shops and houses but it extended upwards and they had given us a room on the 4th floor. We walked our happy dogs, guinea pigs and chicken in a cat box (they thought it was a cat that we were checking in) up those winding stairs and settled everyone in for the night. The guinea-pigs were given run of the shower and Coco was given the bathroom space to stretch her legs.
The 3 of them did make such a mess in the pristine white-tiled bathroom (with Coco recycling the guinea-pig droppings with eagle-eyed accuracy!)
When we woke in the morning, Coco had laid her morning blue egg but with such a change in routine and the stress of the flight and travels in a confined carrier, the egg was soft-shelled, an ugly brown and gelatinous. I’ve always said this to our children that stress and the change in routine when we move affects all of us and we are all governed by our hormones. Our bodies too would have been undergoing exactly the same stress as Coco. She had too much stress cortisol inhibiting the normal functioning of her egg production and normal functioning of her hormones.
To make any stress in life an adventure and a learning curve immediately helps to reduce some of the stress we experience as it is then thought of as a positive experience.
Our adventure continued as we drove the next day to take over our new army house in a leafy suburb in Germany surrounded by other army families. The dogs were thrilled to finally have a home to settle in and as long as they had all of us with them, they were happy. It took a few days for the new chicken run and guinea pig enclosure to arrive and until then, we had no choice but to keep our pets in the dog crates that we had travelled with. I think that the photo below says it all as to how bad the contents of the crate smelt in the morning from just 1 chicken overnight!
Our new home for the year thankfully came with a large garden. There was a lawn, but we were concerned that there were so many pieces of sharp broken porcelain and debris hidden in the grass left over from the wartime and bombings! The garden backed onto a wooded area that became my haven for early morning runs with the dogs. We had daily visitors of red squirrels in our garden. They have tufty golden ‘ears’ and Ruff learnt very quickly exactly what the word ‘squirrel’ meant and he would delight in chasing them.
It was a family affair, but as soon as the chicken coop and guinea pig cage arrived, we all set to work constructing as generous an enclosure as we could for our very loved little pets who had travelled so far with us.
Follow our next chapter when Coco falls gravely ill and Emily leaves ‘home’…….
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