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Apr 19, 2019 10:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Birdie Says Travel Service For Pets At JFK Is All It's Barked Up To Be

Birdie waits for a treat. VALERIE GORDON
Apr 25, 2019 4:18 PM

Bill and Deni McChesney can’t say the word “pub” if their four-legged child is within earshot. However, Birdie hasn’t yet grasped the idea that spelling out “P-U-B,” as her humans often do, means the same thing. So, last week, when Mr. McChesney accidentally said the word out loud, Birdie’s ears perked up—she thought she was “going on an adventure,” as Ms. McChesney calls it.

For the past four years, Birdie, a West Highland white terrier, has accompanied her “parents” on their bi-annual trips to Europe. Although they don’t fly on the same plane, Ms. McChesney said that Birdie looks forward to the flight almost as much as her parents do. “She just can’t wait to get there,” she said.

Ever since the Quogue couple switched Birdie’s plane ticket to ARK at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Birdie has been treated like family. “All the people [at ARK] treat her like their own pet,” added Ms. McChesney. “She’s treated perfectly.”

The company provides pre-flight and post-travel animal care, veterinary services, and 24-hour domestic and international air transportation for pets, horses, birds, livestock and exotic animals.

The McChesneys have been traveling back and forth to Europe professionally for nearly 50 years. However, following Mr. McChesney’s retirement from investment banking in 2014, he wanted to treat his wife, a retired commercial artist, to a more leisurely vacation.

Since then, the couple has visited Europe, flip-flopping back and forth from Cornwall to Bayswater, for four months in the winter, and one month during the summer.

“We’ve been coming forever in all kinds of ways, and once we were really retired and we had Birdie, we started looking into this adventure, traveling with a dog,” Ms. McChesney said.

Birdie, now 4½ years old, was only 6 months old when she took her first trip overseas. After two subsequent trips, Ms. McChesney was eager to find an international transportation service that would treat Birdie well.

After reading an article about ARK in The New York Times in 2017, Ms. McChesney jumped at the opportunity to sign up. In fact, Birdie was ARK’s first customer.

During a previous interview, Joanne O’Connell, ARK’s in-transit and companion animal director, recalled Birdie’s August 1 reservation. She laughed, noting that Ms. McChesney had called prior to the facility even opening its doors. “Birdie is our golden frequent flier,” she said.

Ms. O’Connell explained that in order for pets to fly with ARK, owners must show proof of up-to-date shots and vaccinations, as well as a certified health certificate from a U.S. Department of Agriculture accredited veterinarian, which must be endorsed within five days of travel.

Upon arriving at the airport, pets are transported to the ARK Pet Oasis, a 178,000-square-foot space that offers overnight kennel and boarding, on-site veterinary care, a diagnostic lab, and a USDA-approved import quarantine area.

While waiting to be cleared by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, pets like Birdie also can enjoy the USDA-run facility’s in-house pet spa—complete with bone-shaped pools.

But none of that compares to the pub, Ms. McChesney said.

“If you travel to England and you go to the pub, you get to know everyone in the neighborhood,” Mr. McChesney explained. “Our dog just loves going in there—she’s a very sociable dog.”

In fact, it was Birdie’s friendly nature that led the McChesneys to open their hearts to another dog after their previous West Highland terrier, Mulligan, died in 2013.

Mr. McChesney recalled walking into Sportsman’s Kennels in Manorville in April 2015 and walking out with a puppy. He explained that Birdie, as she would soon be named, jumped up on him, and he said, “That’s it.”

“She was just a friendly little thing,” he said. “We had to name her Birdie, because I’m a golfer, and our last dog was Mulligan, so we had to do one better. So, we named her Birdie, which is one under par.”

Since becoming part of the family, Birdie has flown back and forth with the McChesneys four times—the most recent being from December 5, 2018, to April 3.

Upon returning home, Mr. and Ms. McChesney flew British Airways, as they always do, and Birdie was transported via JCS Livestock Transport, a U.K. affiliate of ARK.

Ms. O’Connell explained that upon departure, pets are crated and loaded into the plane’s temperature-controlled cargo area. Mr. McChesney added that they often send Birdie a day prior to their plane’s departure to allow enough time for their beloved family member to go through customs and be approved for pick-up from the ARK’s Pet Oasis.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that Birdie is loved all the way through,” Ms. McChesney said, while still vacationing overseas last month.

On Thursday, April 18, after settling in at home, Mr. McChesney said that his family will not embark on another transatlantic trip until next winter. Until that time, Birdie will enjoy watching the news with her parents in the morning, going on afternoon strolls down Main Street in Quogue, and as many bones that she has the patience to “wait” for.

“They really are like family. We take her everywhere,” Ms. McChesney said, adding, “It’s going to be hard for her to enter back into quiet Quogue.”

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