The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

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by Marie Scott Standifer

  Shipping animals out of Liberia in 1961 was a risky business, and we had heard many horror stories about what could happen in transit. When we decided to bring Kiki home to the U.S., we worried a lot about it. We knew it was going to be a terrifying and stressful experience, but we also knew that she was young and resilient, and that somewhat encouraged us.
  We had learned a little about the shipping process a year earlier when we had helped our neighbors, the McKees, ship their dog Sniffer home to Detroit. Both of the airlines serving Robertsfield, KLM and PanAm, were now using the new jet airplanes for long distance flights, so the shipping time had been drastically reduced. The McKees elected to use PanAm all the way and have Sniffer shipped to New York. We kept Sniffer until the McKees were settled, and shipped him out on a pre-arranged date. Bob McKee then drove from Michigan to New York and picked him up at the airport. All of that went smoothly, and gave us confidence that it could be done.
  Detroit was also our destination, because my parents, Mom and Dad Scott, lived there. We wanted to ship Kiki straight to Detroit, so the Scotts could pick her up and take care of her while we spent 3 weeks traveling. If we used the PanAm schedule that the McKees had used, she would have had a lengthy layover in New York before a domestic airline could pick her up for the flight to Detroit. In addition to extending the travel time, it also raised the possibility of something going wrong during the transfer. PanAm did operate a direct flight into Detroit from Amsterdam, but the timing of their connection coming up from Africa was not good. The compromise was to ship her via KLM to Amsterdam, and then transfer her to PamAm for the trans-Atlantic segment into Detroit. We would still be risking a transfer, but it would be the shortest possible schedule - a total of 36 hours. It was not the best, but it would have to do. The Scotts agreed to meet Kiki, and we suggested that they arrange to immediately take her to a vet who could check her over. Besides an assessment of the stress of the journey, she would need a shot for distemper (a serum that was not available in Liberia at the time). In considering everything, they decided that she might require a lot of care at first, so they located a kennel where she could go to recuperate for a few days. The kennel owner was used to shipping dogs and dealing with airlines. As it turned out, that was a very fortunate thing.
  We had intended to have a shipping crate built, but someone offered us one that a very large cat had been shipped to them in. At 8 months, Kiki was not yet full grown, so it was just tall enough for her to stand up in and large enough for her to lie down in - but without much room to spare. The box was made of a light wood, had a latched door at one end, and a sturdy handle on the top. Numerous holes, about 3/4" in diameter, had been drilled around the top for ventilation. She couldn’t see out very well, but there were enough to give her air. We didn’t want to add any holes, because we were concerned about how cold it might get at the higher flight altitudes possible with the new jets. Later, after what happened to Kiki and after seeing the shipping crates used in the U.S., I was bitterly sorry that we hadn’t had one specially built for her.
  To prepare for the flight, we had Kiki sleep in the box for about a week. We hoped that that would make it feel and smell a little like home. For those who might need to handle her during the flight, we wrote on the box, “My name is Kiki,” in both English and Dutch (with the help of our Dutch neighbors, the Boses). We also tied a small bag of dog food to the handle as a hint that she might like some food. In short, we did everything we could think of to make the flight as easy as possible.
  Leon got her health certificate from the Firestone Hospital and drove into Monrovia for the export permit. He was very amused that the Liberian official making out the export papers filled in, “Kiki,” in the blank for breed. Leon convinced him to change it to, “Liberian Country Dog,” so that foreigners would know what kind of animal it was. Leon then talked to the airlines, signed the shipping papers, and paid the bill. At that time air freight went at the exorbitant price of 95 cents a pound. Her total shipping cost, including the weight of the crate and the export fee, came to $85.00 - a lot of money in 1961.
  Kiki and I were to leave on the same plane a week ahead of Leon and our son Scott. We would fly together as far as Zurich, where I would change planes for a flight to Brussels to attend an international science meeting. We left Robertsfield together on the mid-afternoon flight of July 24th, 1961. The turbo-prop plane made stops at Freetown (Sierra Leone), Dakar (French West Africa), and Casablanca (Morocco) before getting to Zurich about dawn. At every stop, I, and several other people shipping animals, got off the plane and walked to the forward baggage compartment where the ground crew lowered our charges to the tarmac for a little fresh air and TLC. I recall that several cages of birds and 2 monkeys were being shipped. Each time, I took Kiki for a short walk, petted her, spoke reassuringly to her, and gave her a snack and some water. In between the stops, I would try to sleep and hoped that Kiki was sleeping, too. It was a long, difficult night, but the beautiful sunrise on the Alps eased it somewhat for me. I said goodbye to Kiki at the airport in Zurich that morning and tried to think positively.
  What I couldn’t possibly have imagined, and would not learn about for 3 weeks, was what was about to happen. PanAm and KLM were in the midst of a dispute and were refusing to handle each other’s baggage. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we think that Kiki was side-tracked into a warehouse at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, and became “misplaced in shipment”.
  When she didn’t arrive in Detroit on schedule, my parents and the kennel owner raised as much hell as they possibly could - a considerable amount where Dad Scott was concerned. They bugged the officials and called several times a day - for 2 DAYS!. PanAm put out a tracer, finally found her in London - and couldn’t explain how she had gotten there. Her entry papers were stamped in New York, a city completely off her routing. All in all, the trip of 36 hours took a total of 3 days! Using the ratio of 1 to 7 as equivalent dog to human time, that amounts to a human being shut in a closet for 21 days without food, water, or bathroom facilities while being subjected to strange sounds, terrible odors, and drastic changes in air pressure and temperature. It was a dreadful experience, and I still get upset thinking about it.
  In meeting the plane this time, the Scotts were taking no chances. They brought along the airline officials, the veterinarian, and the kennel owner. It was a tense moment when they opened the shipping crate. She was dirty, smelly, and apparently dead - she just lay there and didn’t move. The vet was able to detect some signs of life and immediately gave her a shot aimed at super rejuvenation. Then he whisked her off to his facility to clean her up and try to revive her. He later confessed that he hadn’t expected her to live. One of his criteria was that the tissues in her mouth had turned from pink to white. But miraculously she did live. After she was out of danger, she spent a few days more recuperating at the kennel, and then, finally, she had healed enough so the Scotts could take her home.
  We arrived three weeks later to hear this tragic story and were both horrified and deeply grieved at the trauma we inadvertently had caused Kiki. By that time, her health was back to almost normal - in fact, she was chunky and fat! The vet had added raw meat to her diet to restore her tissue color, and she was eating better than she ever had in her life!
  However, the horrible ordeal had taken its toll. Her lovely tail was completely uncurled and hung limply down behind her. It was amazing what a difference that made; she hardly looked like the Kiki we knew. We wondered if it would ever curl, again. It did, but very slowly, as we spent time with her, she began to feel secure, and her spirit returned. It is truly a miracle that she survived at all and that we have anything to be writing about.
  Many tributes have been paid to outstanding dogs, and I feel that Kiki is as deserving of testimony as the best of them - despite her lowly birth. She asked very little, gave very much, withstood an ordeal that would have killed a lesser spirit, and remained a pleasant companion throughout her life. The black and white Basenjis of America are richer because of the traits contributed by Kiki of Cryon - the miracle dog.

Copyright © 2001 Marie Scott Standifer, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission

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