Pet movers put Noah’s Ark on wheels in Hermosa Beach
“Everyday thousands of animals are on the move, they travel just like we do— hop in a plane, jump in a car, the usual. My name is James Nelligan, I own Pacific Pet Transport; we move the big, small, dangerous or docile. It’s a toss up sometime who should be in the cages, the animals or my crew…”
Nelligan’s voiceover transitions to a picture of an airplane with an ape, snake, giraffe, dog and elephant pasted into the windows of a cartoon plane with Nelligan in the cockpit, and according to his crew, the made for TV cartoon representation isn’t that off to their everyday job.
Pacific Pet Transport (PTT), the Hermosa Beach pet moving company that has been based in the little beach city since 2001 was recently picked up as a reality TV show and will potentially be airing in Europe and eventually North America. It shows their day-to-day working life of transporting animals big and small to the furthest reaches of the globe and back again.
“It could be a family pet, a zoo animal, animals that are animal actors for movies, spiders, rhinos, lions, sea lions,” Nelligan went on listing off more animals that they have been contracted to move. “It depends on what the scenario is and what needs to be done.”
PTT transported the snakes for the movie, “Snakes on a Plane,” on a plane to the where the movie was being filmed. They’ve also shipped a cobra to the Bahamas for a James Bond movie and lions to South Africa for another film.
“Which is funny because they have lions in Africa,” Director of Sales Nathan Andersen said. “We mostly move family [pets] and assist with the import and export documents, testing, all that stuff. There’s a lot to keep up on, each country has specific documents and they’re always changing.”
“Shipping animals is a challenge because it’s like we’re dealing with people’s children,” Nelligan added. “It’s not like you just make a booking and drop them at the airport, there’s more to it.”
Animal Handler Miguel Fernandez’s day often begins bright and early with an animal transport to or from the airport.
“It’s a different job,” Fernandez said. “I spend most of my time at the airport. A lot of people have misconceptions of what we do, 97 percent of people are regular people that bring their pet with them because of a new job.”
Fernandez isn’t just the pet pick-up guy; he’s also an animal whisperer, but he doesn’t think he’s that great with them. He’s been doing his job for so long that he said he can tell what the animal’s going to act like, and what he needs to do to make the shy or angry pet feel better.
“A lot of animals are scared and can get aggressive. I’ve been bitten— mostly by cats because I tried to make them do things. You can’t make a cat do something,” said Fernandez. “Next thing you know my hands are all bleeding— but we don’t give them sedatives – it’s prohibited. The altitude enhances the effects and you’re basically playing Russian roulette with the dosage.”
Wendy and Stephen Heidt dropped their nine-month old Siberian cat Ci Ci off with Fernandez at the LAX pick-up site for a four-day stay in at the Kennel Club LAX, while her owners vacation in L.A. before continuing on their way from Portland to New Zealand.
“It’s nice to know all the t’s are crossed and know she’ll arrive safely in New Zealand,” said Wendy, while handing the cat over to the tall, cat-loving Fernandez.
“We take care of the food and water and give them some love,” Fernandez said while burying his face in the kitty’s soft-side while scratching her neck. Ci Ci immediately went limp and went back into her crate without a fuss.
On a busy day Fernandez, as well as his animal-handling partner Will Staszaks, can each move 10 or 12 animals to and from the airport. They double and triple check the paperwork as well as the pet’s tracking device. They move pets from the airport to where they board the pets a couple miles from away, and often bring the pet to get sealed into their crate by the USDA as a requirement for quarantine.
“You’d be amazed how many animals travel everyday,” he explained. “LAX is a very busy airport. There are even sometimes huge boxes of reptiles from Africa with little burlap bags with scorpions or reptiles.”
Fernandez and other employees even make house calls to pick up the pets. Orlando Bloom, along with other celebrities, are also PTT customers.
“He has a black lab mix he found in Morocco while filming Troy,” said Fernandez, who personally picks the dog up from his home.
“I’m very conscious of people’s feelings and I’m very delicate and reassuring. It’s their baby! I try to be reassuring so they feel better and not distraught. I’m not judgmental. If I see a guy cry because he’ll miss his dog I don’t think less of him, I think more,” Fernandez said.
“Because of the entertainment industry there’s a lot of ‘animal actors’ that we move for shooting on-location,” said Andersen. “We are obsessive— we made sure that the animals are okay and we have to be sensitive to the clients. So often it can become mundane, but for each client it’s a unique experience. We even send videos and photos while they’re in transit.”
Fernandez, who loves his job but doesn’t think he qualifies as a whisperer, has worked for the company for over eight years and has seen all sorts of animals transported around the world.
“Pets are our bread and butter but we do special requests from zoos and do unusual animals too. My proudest move was when I helped move two (Sumatra) Rhinos that went to meet some eligible bachelors,” said Fernandez. “There were less than 200 left and we moved them from Cincinnati to Sumatra — that’s a big deal. It definitely made my day just to know that we were part of that, it made me feel successful.”
Andersen remembers a time that while moving a chimpanzee to a movie set when Fernandez was seen walking hand-in-hand with the animal in the airport. Recently the company helped rescued more than 30 wolves that were part of an illegal tourist attraction from being put down in Wolf Country, Alaska. Andersen said that the state was going to seize them but an animal rescue group flew to Wolf Country, put them in crates, and PTThelped transport them to Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Frazier Park.
“It’s all about checking the little things like the documents and staying up to date on country requirements,” Andersen said. “If one number on a micro chip is off they get sent back.”
Keeping the pets safe is often the easy part of the job, Fernandez said.
“The average person is concerned and cries, but some of the people lose touch with reality and are emailing every 10 minutes,” said Fernandez. “I love animals too— but sometimes you get these people that keep you on edge.”
Nelligan added that they are in charge of the animal’s wellbeing, and if the animal isn’t healthy enough to travel, they won’t do it. As he sees it, his job is to keep everyone at ease.
“A stressed owner’s a stressed pet,” said Nelligan. “And we get a lot of different personalities. People react differently to stress.”
The pricing to ship a pet can range from $500 to thousands of dollars depending on size and destination.
“Every day’s a different day,” said Nelligan. “A lot of people think they can do it on their own, but it can be quite a headache. We simplify the process and ease the stress of the pet owner.”