A wiener dog, Pipsqueak embarked on a journey of more than 10,000 miles to get to back to its owners.
Little Pip was stranded in South Carolina at the height of the pandemic after her owners were forced to abandon their round-the-world sailing trip and fly home to Australia.
With borders closing quickly, Zoe and Guy Eilbeck, and their sons Cam and Max, had less than 48 hours to pack up everything.
Australia’s tough pet import rules meant their loyal dachshund Pip couldn’t come with them.
Zoe made a few last-minute phone calls to arrange for Pip to be looked after by a friend, and the family said goodbye for what they hoped would be just six short weeks.
But that’s not quite how it worked out.
On March 27 Zoe handed the dog over to her friend Lynn Williams before the family caught a flight back to Sydney.
Unfortunately, Williams already had two dogs on the farm and was not able to take in another for very long, so she advertised for someone to replace her as Pip’s guardian.
Ellen Steinberg, who lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was one of three people to answer the ad.
While Steinberg took care of Pip, Zoe was getting up at 4 a.m. every week day to deal with the endless paperwork involved in importing a dog from the United States to Australia, while keeping up to date with Pip via video calls and messages.
It soon became clear it wouldn’t be possible for the Eilbecks to return to the United States because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. Pip would have to make the long journey to Australia alone.
“To export a dog from America, you need to get a US declaration to say the dog is in good health and has had particular blood tests to do with rabies,” Zoe explains.
“This was being done in New York, which was now closed. So trying to get anything like that done was extremely difficult.”
Steinberg was also having to constantly take Pip to her local veterinarian for paperwork, vaccinations and blood tests in order for her to meet the requirements.
Once they finally received an import permit for Australia, Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia, announced it was no longer flying dogs to the country.
After many phone calls, Zoe discovered that the family could import Pip if they went through New Zealand and managed to get their little dog on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland by booking via pet transport company Jetpets.
By this point, Steinberg, who’d looked after Pip for three months, had to make a trip to visit her family and had passed the dog onto her friend Stacey Green.
“When Stacey got Pip, she actually fell in love with her, to the point where I didn’t think I was going to get her back,” jokes Zoe.
But they still had to get Pip from North Carolina to Los Angeles. And while flights were operating, they were constantly being canceled.
Flying cargo was also now an issue. Many US carriers don’t allow pets to be shipped from May to September, the hottest months for animals to travel in the Northern Hemisphere.
Zoe decided to post a message on social media searching for anyone who was traveling from the east to west coast.
This is when Melissa Young, who works for dog rescue foundation The Sparky Foundation, stepped in and volunteered to fly across America with Pip.
After making sure Pip felt comfortable with her, Young flew from Greensboro to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then from Charlotte to Los Angeles with the dachshund under her seat.
Pip was then handed over to Jetpets, who had her for the night to deal with all of the declarations and paperwork, before putting her on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland.
Once she was on board, all of her temporary carers, along with the Eilbecks, were on the edge of their seats, tracking her flight as it made its way across the ocean.
“All over the world, we’re watching this flight inch across the screen,” says Zoe.
Pip arrived in Auckland on July 23, and went into quarantine overnight before flying to Melbourne, where she spent a further 10 days in quarantine, as is mandatory for every pet that comes into Australia from overseas.
She was scheduled to fly to Sydney on August 3, but the state of Victoria imposed a strict lockdown once Pip arrived and the borders between Victoria and New South Wales were closed.
Zoe’s brother Rob, who lives in Melbourne, agreed to take Pip in for a few days, and the dog was booked on no less than four flights to Sydney, but all were canceled.
By now the story had been picked up by local media and after a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia stepped in and agreed to fly Pip home.
When Pip finally arrived at Sydney Airport on August 11, five months after they’d last seen her, the Eilbecks were there to greet her, along with a film crew and several local reporters.
It was an emotional reunion.
“Our greatest fear was that she wouldn’t remember us after all that time,” says Zoe.
“My kids were so worried that they got a hotdog and rubbed it on their hands. And then this tiny dog walks out through the hangar, strutting along…”
“When she heard our voices, she came barreling into our arms. It was absolutely amazing to have her back after all that time.”
After so long apart, the Eilbecks are thrilled to have Pip back.