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Bringing Bailey back to Australia after Covid

Tiffany and her dog Bailey's personal story highlights the plight endured by so many Australian expats over the past 18 months, forced to make a choice between leaving their beloved pet(s) behind in the wake of the first Covid-19 outbreak or stay put but still waiting for a chance to fly home together.

Tiffany O'Connor reached out to us last month to share her story in the hope that it will help other pet owners in the same situation.

Tiffany (@tiffany.oconnor), a 34-year old performer in musical theatre spent the last 5 years in the United States as a performer in musical theatre before Covid-19 turned her world upside down.

For two of those five years she shared her life with her beloved furbaby Bailey, a rescue puppy she adopted in Las Vegas, that is until Covid hit. We all love our dog(s) but to understand how much Bailey means to Tiffany and how soul-wrenching their 8 month separation has been, we need to go back in time...

“My first visit to the USA was at the age of 21 in New York City. I instantly felt at home and one of many things I loved about the USA was how dog-friendly it was. I instantly saw my future there, but - in true Tiffany fashion - things took a turn. One day after different doctors' visits, I was finally diagnosed with leukaemia. 

My dreams were shattered as I received a five-year treatment plan involving chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant! However, after 3 long years I was back on my feet and within 7 years I could finally fulfill my dream of opening a show at The Venetian Las Vegas.

But despite all this success something was missing...

Wagging Tails Rescue was introduced to me by a housemate, who maybe saw how much I was swooning over her furbaby and could see the love I could give to a rescue pet.

After finding him via the Wagging Tails Las Vegas website, I stood holding Bailey for two hours unable to put him down but shocked at what I was about to do: taking him home with me! I had no reason not to.

I knew Bailey was special to me but it wasn't until I spoke with a psychiatrist about my journey travelling for years without having a single family member in the country that I came to understand that Bailey was my family

To have gone from death's door to 'normal' within the entertainment industry was a huge mental shift. What I didn't realise either was that I had done it alone. I had performed in China, Singapore, onboard cruise ships to (then) the USA back to back with no more than two weeks between any one of those contracts. 

I had bought property hoping to set myself up but instead found myself living out of a suitcase in New York. Bailey was instantly approved as an Emotional Support Animal.

Bailey now being ESA-approved helped in ways but one of the many things I loved about the USA was the understanding of every individual's needs. No questions asked. You need it? They will make it work. And my agent and the producer of Legally Blonde did exactly that as we toured 23 states and performed in 48 theatres!

Shops, restaurants, cafes, flights, airports, the list goes on. 

Nearly every venue in the States was dog-friendly. 

And yes, that means the 45-50 dog-friendly hotels we stayed in.

I had just moved to New York when Covid-19 hit and immediately thoughts spiralled about my health with a compromised immune system, safety as things heated up politically, my future in America, my career, and now more than anything, how do I leave this country with Bailey? To think how hard travelling with pets to Australia was before, my God! How hard would it be now?

For 10 months, I endured continuous misguidance from staff of multiple airlines.

Every day I was looking up non-existent flights hoping that something would change. But if there were flights going to Australia, none of them were flying direct to Melbourne  -where our only pet quarantine facility is located - due to Victoria's border closures. I was left completely defeated but at least I could board an uncancelled flight home and accept that I had to try and get Bailey home later.

I initially delayed making a firm decision to import Bailey because I had read horror stories about pets flying internationally. I was concerned about extreme temperatures during winter or summer and I truly felt that Bailey coming home was about me reluctantly closing a chapter of my life in the USA. I just wanted this pandemic to blow over, for life to get back to normal and for me to continue living in New York.

But then I decided to use an agency called Pet Express a
nd to be honest, I wish I had done it sooner!

They asked for a deposit and assured me I could pause the plans if needed. They gave me updated information that previously had me going around in circles for months between airlines and the Department of Agriculture, let alone understanding the schedule for the required mandatory vaccinations

They were an email away from any question and were dealing with pets flying all over the world every day. To put it simply they knew what they're doing.

The overall cost came to around $10,000. This included the agency fee for Bailey's flight and all the paperwork, import permit, 10 days in the Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine Facility plus three vet visits leading up to departure. 

Just knowing that shots are lined up within days of departure, things can always be delayed. 
Vets can make mistakes and I was on the other side of the world was enough for me to know I had made the right decision.

Being home with family and with Bailey was all I needed for now. I thankfully had amazing friends willing to babysit until Bailey's take-off. 

I couldn't have done any of this without one special friend, Woody. He made sure to follow all of my strict instructions for vet visits. 

I will forever be grateful to him.

So now that I'm home and finally reunited with Bailey, I'd love to see Australia support anyone going through the same ordeal with the needs that I had while in a foreign country. Mine were minor compared to those who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, ADD, chronic stress, and PTSD. 

I am proud, honoured and truly grateful to be home and I hope to see Australia make some dog-friendly changes including more pet quarantine facilities. 

I hope no one else ever faces the same issues getting home without their furbabies as so many Australian expats did.

Happy Ending

Bailey and I have been inseparable since he arrived on July 30. After a cancelled morning flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, I was desperate to pick him up by the afternoon and end his travels once and for all.

He took a few seconds being intimidated and a little scared as I signed all the documents before his release, but as soon as he could smell my hand and hear my voice, it all came back to him and he was busting to be out of his crate and into my arms!

As luck would have it and the only time I could say a lockdown was welcome - was the day after his arrival. Bailey and I were able to spent every second of that whole week in lockdown together.  

He doesn't go a minute without looking up at me. He's even walked into walls continually looking up!

As tedious and expensive as the process was, every second with Bailey so far has completely made up for it and allowed me to now calmly think about my future without wanting to rush back to the States for the sake of Bailey.

If you have been touched by her story, you can follow Tiffany and Bailey's new adventures in Australia @the_daily_with_bailey_

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