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Army Spc. Ruben Martinez checks Bear’s vital signs Wednesday at Misawa Air Base’s veterinary clinic in northern Japan. Pet owners at Misawa, especially those with large dogs, may face a more expensive and challenging permanent-change-of-station move if the Patriot Express pulls out of Misawa this fall.

Army Spc. Ruben Martinez checks Bear’s vital signs Wednesday at Misawa Air Base’s veterinary clinic in northern Japan. Pet owners at Misawa, especially those with large dogs, may face a more expensive and challenging permanent-change-of-station move if the Patriot Express pulls out of Misawa this fall. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Misawa is a great place for pets, especially for big, furry dogs. The climate is cool most of the year and they can romp in the base dog park.

Too bad they can’t stay forever.

If the Patriot Express pulls out of Misawa this fall, it likely will be more expensive and a lot more challenging to ship a pet home or to one’s next duty station, especially for larger animals, base officials say.

Vonda Lewis, 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron traffic management officer, put it this way: “Fluffy will be less costly and easier to secure a pet space than Bruiser.”

Misawa and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni could lose the U.S. military’s chartered air service Oct. 1 unless more duty passengers start using the flights.

For a permanent-change-of-station move, the Patriot Express currently is the most convenient and inexpensive option for shipping pets to and from Misawa.

Travelers must request a pet space, since there are only three flights a month out of Misawa, military officials said, and pets cannot exceed 150 pounds. The cost, based on weight, ranges from $92 to $276. But the flight takes passengers and their pets directly from Misawa to Seattle.

U.S. carriers flying from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport generally charge rates similar to those of Patriot Express to transport pets, but Delta and United airlines are the only carriers that offer government-employee, overseas pet movement in the summer, military officials said, and they may refuse to ship a pet depending on the temperature at the origin or destination.

But the real headache — and cost — for Misawa residents if Patriot Express service is ended would be the leg from northern Japan to Narita.

Japan Airlines runs three flights a day from Misawa to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. For animals and their cage weighing less than 99.21 pounds, the cost is 4,000 yen, or about $34. But with Haneda being many miles from Narita, the journey doesn’t end there.

One option: Servicemembers can reserve a spot for themselves and their pet on a Haneda-to-Narita shuttle run by Yokota Air Base’s 374th Services Squadron for $200. The “Black Cat” shipping service also will haul pets to Narita for about $413 to $496, depending on pet size.

The military does not reimburse costs of transporting a pet for a PCS move.

Lewis said they’re spreading the word to pet owners: “We’re putting it into welcome packets here so incoming personnel know in advance what to expect with the pet situation.”

Other base agencies at Misawa also are exploring alternative transportation options.

“What we’re looking at is some other kind of vehicle to transport the pets” from Misawa to Narita, said Maj. Timothy Sites, 35th Services Squadron commander. Pets aren’t allowed in Services’ rental vans or the organization’s airport shuttle bus from Misawa to Narita because of allergy and safety concerns, he said.

Capt. Natalie Wendeling, officer-in-charge of Misawa’s veterinary services, said she doesn’t anticipate a flood of abandoned pets if the Patriot Express leaves Misawa.

“Most people, their animals are their family members and they’re going to pay for it,” she said. Some people may have to make that tough decision to leave their animal behind because of money constraints, she added, but “just like anything, we’ll adapt, we’ll get the word out and people will be prepared.”

Hana Kusumoto and Vince Little contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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