What a great trip!, Grissom and I left home in France on the first leg of the journey to New York. Due to the time frame we needed to work within, which was less than 10 days prior to leaving, we couldn't depart from Paris so instead we made arrangements and made our way to the UK in readiness to leave from London Heathrow. With such a short time in which to arrange the whole trip we were pushed to get everything together in time, this in itself caused a few issues and it was thanks to Ryslip Kennels at Binfield for one, that we were able to arrange things so quickly, but more on that in a minute.

Shortly after, 9 pm on the 30th of June and we were on our way, I'd kissed Rachelle goodbye, Grissom was chilled in the car, air-con on full and we're on our way to England, Ferry from France at 4 am and arrival safely in Reading for breakfast, so far so good. Of course, we've done that journey so many times its just a matter of routine but, what was to come was new and unknown and I could only hope that I'd done enough preparation and that, although I had no worries about getting to New York, coming back would be a new experience and if I screwed it up, Grissom could find himself delayed or worse.

No rest for the wicked as they say and by 1pm the same day I had to have Grissom at Ryslip Kennels in Binfield (Near Bracknell). Ryslip provide an excellent service when it comes to shipping dogs around the world.(and other services of course) Owned by the Cartledge family, Ryslip has been in business for more than 35 years and on this occasion they did us proud! (Thank you Helen and John) With only a few days notice, they arranged everything to get Grissom to New York safe and sound. All I had to do was get him to Ryslip Kennels by 1pm the day before the flight. Once there, he had a medical check up, he tried on his transport crate, which was made especially for him, and then some rest and relaxation. The next time I would see Grissom would be at Virgin Cargo Centre in Newark USA the next day. Now the worrying set in for me, I knew Grissom was in good hands and that I had nothing to worry about but that doesn't stop you doing it. I convinced myself he would be fine despite the fact that having spoken to the Virgin Atlantic representative on the phone, she assured me that they have never had a problem in all the years of shipping dogs, not even a single fatality!....great I thought, that makes me feel so much better seeing that my dog dying in transit had never entered my mind until that point!...

I didn't sleep well that night, the looming flight, was Grissom alright, would he make the flight etc. It was very hot

you may remember in the UK at that time and this just added to my anxiety.

I made the journey to the airport by coach, checked in and waited. Eventually I got to the departure lounge where I could see the plane and it being loaded. Could I see Grissom? I stared out the window until a security guy came over and asked me to move away, I explained briefly I was looking for my dog, he understood and we chatted for 10 minutes about dogs etc until I moved away and sat down. A few minutes later the guy came over and told me he had seen Grissom being loaded on to the plane.

It was a good flight, I'd never flown Virgin Atlantic before and it was great, nice people, good service and comfortable despite missing the last 10 minutes of the movie "Mall Cop"as we were coming in to land.

On arrival at Newark, the process was quick and efficient, I could see the plane as I walked the long hallways of the airport, still looking back to see if I could see Grissom in his crate, by now it was raining and I could only imagine what Grissom was thinking.

My instructions were to look for Lisa and Alex (Alexandra) in arrivals, they would be the people with a Leonberger. Having only ever spoken to Lisa and Alex on the phone and via email, I was excited about meeting them, they sounded so excited and enthusiastic on the phone about the "project" and of course, they were totally committed to it. I found them both standing amongst the crowds with Fallon, the mother to be if all went well, Fallon is a beautiful bitch, lovely construction and ever so pretty and feminine.We made our way to the cars to get Grissom from Cargo and so a great friendship began.

It took us about an hour to finally get Grissom out of Cargo, by the time we found Virgin, did the paperwork, went over to Customs for more paperwork and back to Virgin it was getting late. The people at Virgin were great, they loved him as I got him out of his crate for the first time in 12 hours. He was so pleased to see me and I was more than pleased to see he'd made the journey successfully. I gave him a run and a drink and he met Lisa and Alex for the first time.

In to the car and we were now off to Pennsylvania, a 2 hour drive to eventually meet up with the folks at CLONE USA....

The Chester Springs Inn was home for the next week. A nice hotel, good people and very comfortable. We settled in and became well known to the staff over the next few days. The whole aim of this journey was to mate Fallon and to this end we needed to engage with CLONE USA as they would be performing the artificial insemination. The lure of puppies was getting stronger and just looking at Fallon and Grissom I knew they'd make great babies.

We hung around the hotel for a few days, went out on shopping trips and made ourselves useful, we had a great time actually and I haven't laughed so much in ages, we had plenty to eat and drink and everywhere that Grissom went he attracted attention, be it in the street or the shopping mall. People were constantly asking, "what dog is that"? and the usual Leo questions, but after the first few dozen you get a little tired of it, after hundreds its driving you crazy, you just wish you had a leaflet to give out to answer the constant questions, of course everyone wanted photos, hundreds of photos, I've never known anything like it.....

On the Monday we went to see CLONE and met John, son of George Govette the worlds leading authority on AI in dogs and other species. John arranged a blood test for Fallon and we waited to see the outcome. Fallon had been blood tested in the days leading up to our visit so we had something to compare to and could see "the curve" developing. That afternoon we met George Govette and what a great guy, from the moment we met George we liked him and hung on his every word. Talking to George for me was an education in itself and all of a sudden I wanted to ask so many questions. The blood test of that morning showed us that Fallon was ready, George did a collection on Grissom and we waited to see what the quality and quantity of the semen was. It takes about 20 minutes for the semen to "activate" this means that for the first 20 minutes the sperms swim around in a hap hazard way, but after 20 minutes they become focused and now start to attack anything, spare proteins or other debris hoping of course that its the females egg. Quantity was good and quality of Grissom's semen was excellent with greater than 95% activity, which George explained is unusual in large breed dogs. George also explained that quality should get better with each collection, so we were starting off on the right foot.

George then carried out a procedure known as Trans-Cervical Insemination with the Norwegian Catheter.This involves placing the semen which, by now has been concentrated, at the base of uterine horns, a process that is only possible using this method (outside of surgery) and one that is highly skilled. In all other cases, AI involves cervical or vaginal placement of semen and the likelihood of success if far less. With Trans-Cervical Insemination George has a success rate of nearly 90% which is amazing really. We left Clone that day feeling very confident that Fallon would indeed fall pregnant as a result of the day's activity. The next day we went back to George for a collection on Grissom which would be concentrated and frozen for future use. If for any reason Fallon didn't become pregnant on this occasion, then we wanted enough semen to try again and again if required. I had also received enquiries from other American Breeders for Grissom's semen prior to our trip so, this collection would provide enough for all concerned. Incidentally, one collection provides enough semen for 5 or 6 litters or at least it does in Grissom's case. With George's system, just one straw can be enough to achieve pregnancy, but two straws is advisable just to make sure.

On our final day in Chester Springs we met with George once again. Another collection, analysis and a second insemination for Fallon with any remaining semen being frozen for future use. The whole process of the insemination is just a few minutes so within 30 minutes we were done. If Fallon wasn't going to be pregnant by now, then it wasn't to be.

With our time over in Chester Springs we packed up and headed for New York. When we arrived we met Alex's dog, D and B, two Leonberger's and little Sheebee Anne, a rescue. Alex's dogs are wonderful, totally spoilt as every dog should be and completely lovely, the day finished with a nice meal and time to reflect on the weeks activities. The plans for Thursday were to relax and prepare to come home on the Friday. Naturally we had to go to the vets to get Tick and Tape treatment as part of the process to get back in to the UK and that we did in the afternoon. Lisa's vet was very helpful filling in the paperwork, doing the Drontal and Frontline although we had to make a 90 minute round trip to collect Drontal in pill form from another vets. With all our paperwork in order, passport signed and even USAD paperwork in place in case we needed it, we were set for the big journey home.

The rules to gain entry from the US in to the UK are the same as those from France but with a couple of extras. First when booking travel you must send copies of all paperwork to the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow. This is to ensure that when you arrive your onward travel is not a problem. Secondly there is a £300 handling charge on arrival payable to animal reception services. Third, there are limited airlines that are authorised to ship dogs in and out of the UK and will depend on what US State you're coming from and what UK Airport you arrive at. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are a good bet all round.

Thursday evening saw my first venture in to NY City. Alex was my guide for the night and we had a really good time. This was the first time I hadn't been with Grissom all week, although we did leave him at Alex's house to be baby sat. We met up with some of Alex's family and had a little time to visit a couple of New York land marks. I had a great time, so much so I arrived home at 4:45 the next morning only to hear my hotel room phone ringing at 8 am with Rachelle giving me an alarm call....great!

After a lengthy breakfast it was off to Lisa's house to meet her dogs and her Mom. Paris, Ares and Megan Lisa's

leonberger's were wonderful, Ares was my favorite (not forgetting Falllon of course) and reminded me of my guys. All too soon it was time to leave for the airport, Lisa and I set off having said my goodbyes. First stop being the USDA vets to gain a counter signature on some paperwork for the airline. Finally in to the airport, even more attention for Grissom.

Finally the flight was ready and it was time to leave. A sad moment for me having had such a great time. Lisa and Alex are so wonderful, its a rare thing to find people so committed to their dogs and the love of the breed in general. I found two great friends in the US with their generosity and kindness seeing no end. I am truly grateful to have met them both and can't wait to see them both again

Having boarded the red eye back to London I had mixed feelings, sadness to leave and happiness at the thought of getting home to see Rachelle and kids. My thoughts also turned to Fallon and hoping that we'd done enough, with all the effort, time and money was it going to work, we felt confident for sure but we all know that nature can be cruel

The good news is though.......Since returning home, Fallon has been scanned and she is pregnant!!!

Fallon is due around the 6th of September, so watch this space for the next chapter, fingers crossed for all concerned....

Alex is the short one one in the middle....;--))