Left behind due to Covid, dog travels 4,000km for owner’s wedding

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on October 28, 2020 | Last updated on March 19, 2021 at 01.44 pm
Smurf in the arms of his human Malavika Kurian

Smurf back home with Malavika Kurian.

Man’s best friend finds its way home, eventually. Smurf, a seven-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, travelled 4,000km from Dubai into the arms of its owner in India. The pet dog was left behind at the height of the Covid-19 triggered restrictions after his owner had to travel back home in a repatriation flight early June.

“At that time, flights to India were only for emergency repatriations. No airline was accepting pets,” said his owner Malavika Kurian, who left Smurf under her aunt’s care in Dubai.

On Wednesday, after a four-month-long separation, Smurf was finally reunited with his family in Kottayam, Kerala. His journey included a 12-hour road trip. The pet was put on an Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Bengaluru last week.

“From Bengaluru, the company organised a road journey to Kottayam along with a handler. Fortunately, there is no need for pets to undergo mandatory quarantine,” said an ecstatic Malavika, who is due to get married in December. “My mother and I are over the Moon. We wanted Smurf to be here in time for the wedding. He is a big part of our family as we have had him home since he was one month old.”

Travelling long distances without their humans is a stressful affair for dogs. “He wasn’t eating during the journey. He ran into our home as soon as he saw us, and is now adjusting well,” said Malavika.

Pet relocation amid a pandemic

Sujith Gangadharan, managing partner at Pet Express Animals — the company that organised Smurf’s ‘repatriation’ — said pet relocation services have seen a boom amid the pandemic.

“Hundreds of people who had to return to their home countries due to job losses were forced to leave their pets behind because airlines were not allowing pet relocations in the early months during the pandemic,” said Gangadharan, who has been in the animal transportation business for 18 years.

In the UAE, pets are usually allowed to travel as accompanied ‘excess baggage’ in IATA-prescribed travel crates. The pet is placed in a temperature-controlled cargo hold of the aircraft. The second option is via manifest cargo, where the pet travels as an unaccompanied shipment. “Families have to be prepared for (lots of) ... paperwork such as vaccination records, export and import regulations, health certificates, etc,” he added.

Airlines flying to the UK, the US, Europe, and India began accepting pets around June 23. Gangadharan said most of the relocations his company handled were to the UK. “About 150 to 200 pets were repatriated to various parts of the world since June.”

About 90 per cent of the pets were cats and dogs, “but we have had a few hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs”, added Gangadharan.

A costly affair

Relocation, according to Gangadharan, can be an expensive affair. “Nearly 70 per cent of the repatriations we organised during this time were for families who have suffered job losses. Since several families were also suffering financial crises, the agency also came forward to support them.”

Relocation to India can cost anywhere between Dh5,000 to Dh6,000 for small dogs and goes up to Dh12,000 for larger ones. Transferring a cat costs between Dh3,000 to Dh5,000.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.

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