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And Toto Too

As the bonds between people and their animals grow stronger, organizations increasingly find themselves addressing the issue of pet relocation.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
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It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Joe Crumly, a senior consultant in the Dallas office of international management and HR consulting firm ORC Worldwide. Late in 2005, Crumly found himself being aggressively pursued by "one of the biggest financial institutions in the world," which was trying to woo him to head up its Asian operation. By year's end, he had already participated in more than 15 interviews and found the prospect undeniably exciting. 

"This is a very highly regarded, respected company, and it would definitely be a career-building opportunity for me," says Crumly. "It's a no-brainer that it would be a great professional move that would look good on my resume."

Understandably, Crumly had other matters to consider before he could feel comfortable accepting a position that would entail spending at least three years and possibly greater than five in Hong Kong or Tokyo. Specifically, he had to contemplate the effects of such a move on his family and, in particular, his "baby," Rhett. Unlike other parents pondering a move to a foreign destination, Crumly's concerns didn't revolve around language barriers and the availability of international schools.

Rather, he was mostly worried about how Rhett would feel spending his days cooped up in a small apartment instead of romping through the rural countryside outside Dallas where Crumly currently makes his home. That's because Rhett is not a child of the two-legged variety, but a 110-pound, three-year-old German Shepherd. For Crumly, a self-described "pet parent," however, that makes no difference.

"It's just like any other member of the family," he says. "You want to have your animals close to you, so you plan your life around them."

Although Crumly has the option of leaving Rhett back in the States with his parents for the duration of the assignment, he admits he's not completely comfortable with that arrangement either. "I'm at a point where I don't think I can give him up," he says. "He's like my child."

Crumly's dilemma comes as no surprise to Dr. Walter Woolf, a Tampa, Fla.-based veterinarian, who founded Air Animal Inc., a pet transportation service, with his late wife, Millie, in 1977. Speaking to a meeting of the Southern Regional Relocation Council in Orlando this past September, Woolf gave a presentation entitled, "The Move's Not Complete until the Pet Arrives." And increasingly, he says, that's how transferees feel.

"We are finding more and more scenarios of, 'I'm not going to take the assignment unless my pets come along,'" he says. "Pets are part of the family, and when people come home, they want their dog to wag its tail and say, 'Hi, I was barking at the mailman all day. What kind of day did you have?' "

Experts say having their pets in host locations with them helps reduce expats' stress and, ultimately, makes the assignment more successful. For his part, Crumly believes he would be far less effective an employee -- and his assignment could potentially even be jeopardized -- were he not to have Rhett by his side.

"Having my dog (with me) helps me adjust to stressful situations very quickly," Crumly says. "If he were not there, I would be a whole lot more lonely and sad, and it would probably be even more stressful later on."

Should Crumly decide to accept the assignment -- and take Rhett with him -- his potential new employer has indicated that it would assist in both coordinating and paying for Rhett's transportation. And they are far from the only company offering such a service. More than one-fourth (27 percent) of all companies foot the bill for moving a pet, according to the Atlas Van Lines 38th Annual Survey of Corporate Relocation Policies 2005. Among companies employing more than 5,000 salaried employees, that number jumps to 39 percent.

As with any relocation expense, the cost of moving a pet varies widely -- from $200 or $300 to several thousand dollars, depending on a variety of factors, including the size of the pet and the host-location regulations with regard to matters such as quarantine. (For up-to-date information on the frequently changing international pet regulations and policies, see www.petswelcome.com/milkbone/quarmap.html.)

One of those large employers covering the relocation of pets is Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. According to company spokesman Fred McNeese, moving pets is part of IBM's standard relocation package. The technology giant contracts with an international pet transportation company, which picks up the pet at the transferee's home, takes care of any required quarantine arrangements, and delivers the dog to the new home.

All the transferee has to do is ask his or her local veterinarian to verify that the pet is up to date on all required vaccinations. The process is quite painless, says McNeese. He knows firsthand, since he has taken his dog, Aggie, on assignment with him numerous times, including two stints in Tokyo and one in Paris.

Pet Peeves

Not all experiences have been so positive. With a relatively small number of expats -- six to 12 on assignment at any given time -- Omaha-based SITEL, a global provider of outsourced customer support services, agreed to move two dogs for a senior executive who was relocating from the United States to Ireland last year. To keep rabies out of its confines, Ireland requires all pets to be vaccinated and micro-chipped, and then quarantined for six months prior to entering the country.

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Unlike other locations, which require animals to spend the quarantine period in a kennel, Ireland allows them to stay behind in the U.S. with friends or relatives. At the end of the six-month period, SITEL was dismayed to learn that an error had occurred in the paperwork and that Ireland was denying entry to the dogs. Although the dogs' veterinarian issued new documentation correcting the error, Irish authorities were adamant that the animals would not be permitted to enter the country.

"It was just one thing after another, and the employee got pretty upset because his dogs didn't get there when he thought and it was tearing his family apart," says Sarah Alukonis, SITEL's global human resources project manager. "At one point, when we thought the dogs might have to wait another six months, he was ready to move himself and his family back to the U.S. in order to be with the dogs."

In the end, the dogs were reunited with the transferee and his family in Ireland, but it required a creative approach on the part of Air Animal, working with Lexicon Relocation, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based relocation management firm. Recognizing there was a provision of free motion of people and animals between the United Kingdom and Ireland, they inquired as to whether the dogs would be allowed to enter England. Fortunately, U.K. authorities were willing to admit the dogs, which were then ferried to Ireland.

As a result of this one unfortunate incident, Alukonis says SITEL will never again get involved in the process of pet relocation. Should a transferee make such a request in the future, the company will get him or her in touch with animal transportation specialists, but corporate involvement will end there.

The majority of companies don't interject themselves into the pet-moving process, according to Dagmar Tencer, director of global assignment services for Lexicon. Instead, she says, they ask employees to make their own arrangements for their pet's relocation and pay for it using the miscellaneous relocation allowance. That way, the company is not responsible if problems arise, and they also avoid the difficult chore of defining what constitutes a "pet."

While Detroit-based Ford Motor Co. handles movement of pets on a case-by-case basis, most transferees opt to handle the matter themselves, according to Marcey Evans, the company's HR, health-care and labor-relations public-affairs manager. "Given the emotional ties most people have to their pets, the majority of employees who are being relocated choose to move them on their own or make their own arrangements for pet care during the relocation period."

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