Shipping cats overseas is complicated. And not your run-of-the-mill complicated, I mean Tokyo Public Transportation system complicated. Afghanistan counterinsurgency chart complicated. This poo is no joke.
For starters, it's a seven month process involving microchipping, two rabies vaccinations, a blood test, a six-month waiting period, a final vet checkup by a USDA-certified vet, and a 6-page health certificate stamped by a USDA office. That last vet checkup is only good for 10 days, too. They prefer 2 days, but there was no way we could do that without ripping the fabric of space and time.
Not all airlines will allow pets, not all airlines will allow unaccompanied pets, most airlines have temperature restrictions - if the temperature at the departing/connecting/arriving airports at any point during the animals' journey is above 85°F, they will refuse the animal. It's for the critters' safety, so I can't be mad at that, but it definitely makes it difficult to plan ahead, especially in the summer months.
Plan A was to have the cats chaperoned from DC to Tokyo by someone who was flying in this direction. Got all paperwork in order, last-minute vet visit, overnight forms to Richmond for USDA stamping and get them overnighted back, good to go. Until it hit 103°F at the airport and the cats were refused.
Plan B (1.0) needed to happen in the next 2-3 days so the health cert would still be good, so arrangements were made through a different airline (with temperature-controlled facilities at each stop, so the outside temperature is irrelevant). A modification of cat importation form was sent to the Tokyo airport, approval for the change was received (the approval needs to be presented at check in, so getting approval for changes needs to be lickety-split in this kind of situation). Good to go.
This plan was derailed when Aria pulled out the 5th degree black belt in Hiding. Three people looked for her for two hours, and as soon as there wasn't enough time to get to the airport, she strolls out like nothing happened.
Plan C gets formulated: change my flight from DC to Tokyo in August to one that allows pets and hope it's not too hot to fly, also reserving an unaccompanied cargo shipment through the temperature-controlled company as a backup. I was in the middle of that when CFM (Cat Foster Mom) called to say she was able to get them booked on the first flight out the next day. Back to Plan B, now 2.0.
New project: Get another modification form submitted, approved, and sent to CFM for printing before she needs to leave for the airport in approximately 6 hours.
The confirmation she forwarded me from the airline was missing some crucial information, like the flight number for the second leg and what day they would ultimately arrive in Tokyo, so I called to double check. Then I called the vet on base to see if, for this second addendum, if I needed to use the information from the original notice or the information from the last modification. Then the scanner stopped cooperating for a while. I finally got the form off to the right person, 5 hours to go.
Three hours later we asked a friend who speaks Japanese to call the airport and ask them about the approval. He was nice enough to do so and they were gracious enough to find our form and push it through almost immediately, and I forwarded it to CFM.
CFM got the forms, the cats got to the airport. Labeled, fooded and watered, absorbent-padded, and bewildered, but OK to travel.
At time of writing, they've completed the first leg of their trip, they'll fly the rest of the way in a few hours.