I know the look. In Maui’s Hawaiian Moons Natural Foods, a man sidles over with a mournful expression on his face and a piece of chicken in his hand. “Can I give her a treat?” he asks.
It’s the second time today that Jinji and I have been approached by a total stranger pining for a dog back home. The man, who’s from Palm Springs, Calif., takes out a picture of his nine-year-old black German Shepherd. “I’m going to bring her as soon as my wife and I get a place here,” he says, eyes misting over. “Seriously, I could cry, I miss her so much.”
This used to be me.
I’d been coming to Maui for nearly 14 years, sometimes for a month at a time, sometimes for three. I came for love, to avoid hurricanes and to preserve my sanity. For a while, I could comfort myself with the knowledge that back home in Florida, Jinji was at “summer camp,” staying with a family she’d known since she was a puppy and who adored her. (Equally lucky for me, Jinji’s “other mother,” Sheena, ran the front desk at my wonderful vet’s office.) It was a pretty ideal situation, given the circumstances.
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Yet, for all of my personal sans-doggie freedom, with each visit, Maui became less of a paradise without my girl by my side. Virtually every time I walked on Keawakapu, the island’s primo dog-friendly beach, I felt a wave of grief. Jinji’s bliss in life is stalking tennis balls in the surf. How could I leave her behind?
Then, there was the anxiety. Florida’s summertime thunderstorms are brutal on her, and, as my Emotional Support Animal (ESA), Jinji made it possible for me to deal with elevators, planes and subways after years of panic attacks and claustrophobia. Plus, neither of us was getting any younger. The reality of my puppy turning 11 landed like an anvil.
What’s the hold-up for those of us longing for our dogs back home? Hawaii’s mandatory 120-day quarantine for all dogs arriving from out-of-state. Unlike the mainland, the Hawaiian Islands are (and have always been) rabies-free, and the state’s Department of Agriculture is dedicated to keeping them that way.
There’s a way around the fourmonth hiatus, however, assuming you’re willing to tackle it: qualify your dog for direct release from the airport. It’s a labyrinthine and time-consuming obstacle course requiring perfectly orchestrated rabies shots, blood tests, vet visits, paperwork and more paperwork. One slip-up and your dog, like an American Ninja warrior, could be disqualified. It takes about five months, so planning ahead is crucial. And it’s not cheap. Vet bills, the FAVN rabies titer test, the $145 import fee, health certificates prior to travel, very specific flea/tick meds (Fipronil, not Revolution), and additional airfare if your dog is not an ESA add up quickly.
Direct Release, Maui Style
Kelly Heiman has lived on Maui for 30 years. In 1999, she opened the Central Maui Animal Clinic (CMAC), just five minutes from Kahului Airport; this year, she launched her third clinic. “There are still people unaware that they can bring their four-footed family members [dogs or cats] into Hawaii, and we want to help them,” says Heiman, who has been facilitating Direct Release for 15 years and has, according to her calculations, helped shepherd “thousands upon thousands of animals” to Maui.
Four Maui-based veterinary facilities are authorized by the state to expedite Direct Release: At Home Animal Hospital, CMAC, Maui Humane Society and South Shore Veterinary Care. During peak visitation season (September through February), CMAC alone handles the entry of 500 dogs a month. According to Heiman, while many clients are regulars with homes or condos who travel back and forth every few months, most are moving to the island with their dogs.
In 2016, assisted by CMAC, I brought Jinji with me to Maui for the first time. Brian from their Lahaina office was my agony uncle, phone savior and general handholder through the grueling application process. If you’re not OCD before initiating this procedure, there’s a very strong possibility you will be afterward. At one point, I thought I’d blown it by miscounting the 90-day minimum required between the last rabies vaccination and entry. Brian assured me that we’d be okay, since there was no lapse in vaccination coverage and Jinji’s FAVN test was fine.
On arriving in Maui, Priscilla met us at the gate. I handed over Jinji’s health certificate and import form and she handed me an info packet with a list of dog parks on Maui. Officially, there are four, and one, Keonekai, was right across the road from where I was staying. Within five minutes, Jinji and I were pau (done) and on our way.
Flying through Honolulu
This year, in the interest of research as well as saving a few bucks ($165 total versus the $145 permit plus the Neighbor Island Direct Release fee of $300 to $400), I decided to come through Oahu’s Honolulu International Airport.
An added advantage of traveling via Oahu, even if it isn’t your destination island, is that— provided all of your paperwork has been received and approved beforehand—you only need to give the Animal Quarantine Office 10 days’ notice of arrival and show up with a valid health certificate. (Track your documents! Keep copies!) For Neighbor Island Direct Release, you must provide your arrival date 30 days in advance as well as exact flight details, which kills spontaneity and precludes hedging for cheaper airfares.
Since Hawaiian Airlines flies to Maui via Honolulu, with multiple layovers to choose from, there’s no need to purchase an additional ticket if you time it right. The Animal Quarantine Office website suggests that you allow three hours and land by 3:30 pm, since they close at 4:30; late canine arrivals must spend the night at a separate quarantine facility (on your dime).
Delta, which flew us from West Palm Beach to Los Angeles— and which surprised me with an upgrade to a comfort-plus aisle seat at no additional charge— could not have been more helpful. Hawaiian Airlines’ LAX check-in desk, not so much. An atypically surly “Special Assistance” agent told me I’d be met by a representative from Animal Quarantine in the airport (wrong), asked to keep an extra copy of my doctor’s letter (which I’d already faxed twice), then sent me on my way still holding Jinji’s super-critical pink health certificate in her hand. When I told her I was going to need it, she wordlessly thrust it at me. Once airborne, however, the Hawaiian cabin crew was stellar, as usual.
Things perked up again on our arrival in Honolulu. At the jetway, Jinji and I were immediately swept up by Glen, a big, beaming fellow in a blue Hawaiian Airlines shirt. He grabbed my bags, offered us water, zipped us to the quarantine station in his van and singlehandedly brought the aloha back. The quarantine station, which had assumed gothic dimensions in my checklist-addled mind, is actually a nondescript little building. There’s complimentary planeside pickup if you have a bona fide service animal (a dog trained to assist those with vision, hearing, mobility or related issues); otherwise, a representative from your airline should meet you.
Upon entry, I handed over papers and pooch. Jinji then vanished behind closed doors to be inspected for fleas and ticks. We entered at 1:20 pm; by 1:32, we were done. Just as Jose was handing me the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket—the Airport Release Card, good for unlimited re-entry via Honolulu at $78 per visit for the three-year lifespan of the permit —I was instructed to return Jinji to her carrier, as Bella, a tiny Yorkie, was entering.
Bella’s rather harried person, Julie Corry, had flown from St. Petersburg, Fla., via Houston and had walked to the quarantine station after an airline rep failed to meet her. “That was a heck of a hike,” said Corry, who lives part of the year on Oahu and has ferried Bella back and forth three times in the last 18 months.
As I lugged my bags to the inter-island terminal to see if we could jump on an earlier flight to Maui, Jinji made her first Pacific poo. Nearby, a small pack of red-vested ESAs and their humans were being corralled by a clipboard-wielding lady from Alaska Airlines.
One $30 change fee and $10 seat upgrade later, Jinji and I were sitting on Hawaiian Airlines’ puddle-jumper to Kahului, where our Uncle Bob greeted us with matching doggie-and-mom leis.
Truth is, I would have considered bringing Jinji to Maui years ago had I found a safe, secure and dog-friendly place that wasn’t stiflingly hot in the summer. Many island homes don’t have air conditioning, and temperatures can climb into the high 80s. Lucky for us, we connected with Ruth, Roxanne and their eight-year-old Pekingese, Mahalo, who provided us with a pono—righteous—place to lay our heads.
Even with niche travel websites like BringFido.com, finding a short- or long-term rental in Hawaii can be a challenge. We ran into a couple from Haiku on Maui’s North Shore, who were “staycationing” with their Cockapoo Louis at Wailea’s Residence Inn. While many of the big-name resorts, including the Four Seasons, welcome pets weighing 15 pounds or under, the longer your visit and the bigger your dog, the harder to find and more expensive housing becomes.
CMAC’s Heimer says that she’s seen people arrive with their dogs, “and within a week, catch a plane home because they couldn’t find somewhere to stay.” One of her doctors, who has a Great Dane, recently thought he’d found a place on Craigslist, but it turned out to be a scam. “He sent a deposit and when he showed up, a family was already living there.”
Chip Wobeser, from RaleighDurham, N.C., had better luck. The mutual bond salesmen-turned photographer and divemaster scored a perfect ohana on Craigslist. He and his four-year-old Boston Terrier, Logan, arrived in Hawaii without a backup plan. Fortunately, Logan charmed his potential landlords and, more importantly, their Chihuahua and Italian Greyhound.
At Home on Maui
With so many dogs flying into Maui, what about those who are Hawaiian born and raised, or are frequent visitors—the “canine’aina”? (Kama’aina, literally, “child of the land,” is Hawaiian for a local person.)
On Maui’s North Shore, at the wilder and less touristy Baldwin Beach, most of the dogs are indeed full-time residents, originating from the Big Island, Oahu or the Maui Humane Society a few miles down the road. Koo Koo, a sweet Pit Bull with a head the size of a giant coconut, was rescued from a meth dealer. Leashed, he joyfully drags his walking partner across the sand.
GOOD TO KNOW
- On the ground: Cane toads, large and alarming-looking non-native amphibians, are everywhere when it rains, and are just as toxic to dogs as the dreaded Bufo toad on the mainland.
- At the beach: Watch for wicked shore breaks, particularly at Big Beach (Makena Beach); they’re dangerous for us and just as dangerous for our doggie friends.
- Clean-up: Bring poop bags with you on your island explorations. Plastic bags are banned on Maui and free bags are not available at every beach or green space.
- Leash laws: Dogs are required to be restrained in all public places, including beaches. The laws are enforced ran- domly, usually with a warning followed by a $50 fine.
- Car rentals: Many companies will charge a penalty if they have to clean up copious amounts of sand or dirt. They may require a pet deposit, or even decline the rental if they know you will have a dog with you (Enterprise asked to see my doctor’s letter). Bring a towel or sheet and cover the car seats.
- Dog-friendly businesses: Many stores and eateries are dog-welcoming. Joy’s in Kihei offered Jinji bacon, and owner Randy often has his Cavalier, Nalu, on-site. I also saw all manner of dogs entering Safeway. However, dogs are not allowed at Kula’s fabulous Saturday morning green market, and Costco in Hawaii is just like it is the mainland: you will be quizzed at the door.
They are overtaken chariotrace style by Sammy, a rowdy black Lab, and Dennis, the young man at the end of her lead. Dennis’s mother works at Maui County Animal Control and he tells me he doesn’t want to make her look bad by letting Sammy run amok.
Back at Keawakapu, it’s a United Nations–style Doodlepalooza. Every morning between 7:30 and 8:30, a small cluster of dogs and people congregate on the beach’s golden sands, looking out over the impossibly beautiful sea toward Lanai and the West Maui Mountains.
There’s Ellen, a year-round resident, with her four-month-old apricot Labradoodle Teddy, born on Oahu. Barry and Mark commute from San Francisco with Rupert, a 24-pound, exceedingly debonair, dark-chocolate ’doodle. Farther down the beach, stately gray Standard Poodles Moku and Kimo—long-time residents who started life in Australia and have become iconic fixtures here— chase Frisbees in the surf. (Guam, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the UK are rabies-free, so quarantine isn’t required for dogs from these countries.)
And then there’s Edie, a milk-chocolate Australian Labradoodle born in Scotland who recently celebrated her first birthday with a huge luau put on by her “mom,” Carol Wallack, in their rambling toy-filled house just across the road. There were 40 or 50 people, 25 dogs, a huge taco bar with Margaritas, and a swimming pool bobbing with tennis balls. “The works,” says Wallack, formerly chef and owner of Chicago’s renowned Sola restaurant. “She’s my child.”
I know how she feels. Getting Jinji to Maui wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap, but I would do it again. In a heartbeat.