Diplomats are often faced with difficult circumstances. Their negotiations may affect the outcome of international disputes or solidify relations among nations. Sometimes diplomatic skills are also necessary for certain circumstances — such as determining whether an American dog can stay in a Soviet hotel.
Kempton B. Jenkins describes his experience with bringing his pet, an Airedale terrier, to his post in the Soviet Union, where he served from 1960-62. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning February 1995.
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“In my entire career, I handled this more diplomatically than anything I ever faced”
JENKINS: We came in on diplomatic passports obviously, went into the diplomatic lounge where we were met by embassy staff. All that went reasonably smoothly. But we had our Airedale with us. The Russians had never seen an Airedale in the first place. So when we arrived at the airport, they didn’t know what to do.
They decided he had to go through customs, but we didn’t have a customs declaration, and they didn’t have a form for a living dog. So we went back and forth. The agricultural department got into it, etc., and we finally got clearance.
But I would say it was a three-hour process, with a lot of moments in those three hours when it looked like they would not allow the dog to enter the Soviet Union. Since this was our pet Airedale and he had been with us for 12 years, there was no way we were not going to take that dog with us.
Well, we finally got in, and then went down to the Hotel Ukraine (pictured) where our temporary quarters were, where we subsequently had to live for six weeks. It was very difficult, the conditions were not good. As we arrived, we walked into the desk, with the Airedale on the leash, and our three boys, and put our passports down.
They confirmed, yes, they do have a reservation for us, a suite of two rooms back-to-back. And then the woman looks up and said, “Of course, we do not allow dogs in the hotel.” This was a real challenge, and I must say probably in my entire diplomatic career, I handled this more diplomatically than anything I ever faced.
A bolt of lightning came to me, and I decided, okay, this is the land of non-sequiturs, here we go.
I told the woman profusely, “I am so impressed. Do you know on the entire European continent, the Soviet Union is apparently the only country where dogs are not allowed in hotels? You are so progressive, that’s so sensitive to sanitary considerations,” and I had to go into that, “I really take my hat off to you.”
And she nodded and smiled and said, “That’s right. No dogs allowed in the hotel.”
We picked up our passports and the keys and the dog, and went right up to our room. She never said a word.
And as we came back out about two hours later to take the dog for a walk along the Moscow River, she looked up and wagged her finger, and said, “Remember, no dogs.”
And I said, “Yes, I do remember. I can’t wait to write to tell my friends.” And she beamed and nodded.
For six weeks every day she would say, “No dogs.” And I’d say, “Absolutely.”