Bringing Fido

So you want to bring your pet abroad. Can you? Moreover, should you?When I was a child, my family’s house was the house where all the strays ended up. It started when my mother found a flowerpot filled with newborn kittens on our elementary school playground. She took the kittens home, and we fed them milk from little bottles until they could eat solid food. Then we found homes for each and every one—except for Patches, who stayed with us for the next fourteen years. That kitten diaspora, though, must have put out the word to the animal community, because forever after that, our home became a waystation for every stray dog and cat in the area. We took them in, tried to find their owners; vaccinated, neutered and fed the ones who stayed, loved them, and took care of them for as long as they remained with us.

One of those cats was Smokey, a bob-tailed gray and white tabby. Smokey’s owners did contact us—to tell us that they were moving to Britain and couldn’t take her. At that time, Britain had some pretty draconian quarantine laws—four months mandatory, at owner’s expense, no exceptions. Logically, I understood their decision. Emotionally, though, it was a toss-up, which was more horrifying: giving up a beloved pet, or consigning them to four months in a cage in some foreign place.

Fast-forward a bit. I grew up, married, and started a family of my own—two adults, two children, a dog, a cat, and a bunny. Then our family decided to move to Britain. I was thrilled to learn that the UK had changed its policy in 2012, to align its rules about animal transport with those of the EU. Under present rules, you can bring your pet to Britain as long as said animal is microchipped, vaccinated, properly documented, and arrives via an approved route and carrier. I will warn you, though, the process is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

At first, I tried to figure it out myself. I’m something of a Bureaucracy Whisperer, I don’t mind paperwork, and really, I thought, how hard could it be? Turns out? Plenty hard. It’s not difficult, per se, but there are a lot of moving parts, and they all have to be put together in a very specific order and manner, with signatures, certificates, and timelines. And the penalty for failing to dot even one tiny ‘i’ is the dreaded quarantine.

Now, I love my pets. I really, really love my pets. I would go to absurd lengths to do right by them, and the stress of trying to arrange their legal transport was making me a wreck. And then it occurred to me: I wasn’t the first person struggling with this situation. This was America, which meant that somewhere, somebody must have streamlined the process and turned it into a business. Somewhere, there must be someone who does this for a living.

And yes. There are. Hundreds. God bless America.

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It turns out that there are huge numbers of professional pet transporters. The problem was, though, picking the right one. For where high-ticket pet services go, pet transport scams inevitably follow. You could wind up paying for services that never materialize. Or you could pay someone to transport your pet to your new destination, only to have them turn around and try to sell Fido on Craigslist. Or worse.

The International Pet and Animal Transport Association is an international organization representing more than four hundred pet shippers in eighty countries. IPATA members are registered with the applicable organizations within their own countries and adhere to the rules and regulations of the Live Animals Regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). All U.S. Active IPATA members are registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and adhere to the rules and regulations of the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act.

Although you will still need to research your shipper thoroughly—different shippers offer different services, in different places, at different prices, and these factors can vary widely—IPATA’s listings are a good place to start.

I found my pet shipper through the IPATA website. The criteria I used to separate them from the handful of companies on my shortlist were these:

(1) They knew what they were talking about. I researched pet transport exhaustively, over the course of several months, and my research skills are top notch. What my pet transport company told me corresponded exactly to what I had discovered on my own. Moreover, never, at any point, did I know something they didn’t. That gave me confidence.

(2) Good communication. They responded to my initial email within an hour. Other companies took a few days, a week, or never responded at all. Once we discussed the available services and negotiated a package, they sent me a very clear and specific timeline of things that I had to do to prepare my pets, as well as a list of the services they would provide, and the prices of those services. On top of that, they were very patient with what had to be an annoying level of nervousness, questioning, and double-checking on my part. They always had time to explain things again and again, in writing and over the phone. Kindly.

(3) The right combination of services. Different companies offer different services. A good company will give you a list of mandatory services, optional add-ons, and fixed prices for everything (hint: it’s not cheap. If someone’s offering to transport Fido or Fluffy for a couple hundred dollars, it’s a scam). What I wanted was someone who would take my pets, bring them to Edinburgh, deal with customs and everything else, and deliver them to my new home, with nothing left for me to do after my dogsitter dropped them off. “Can you do that?” I asked. “Yes,” they said. And then they did.

Whether or not you choose to use a pet transport company to bring your furry friends abroad with you, it’s worth checking out the USDA/APHIS website regarding international pet travel to and from the U.S. The site has information about import requirements for various countries, as well as information about obtaining an international health certificate, a pre-travel checklist, and more. You should also take a look at the government website of your target country.

And, as always, plan ahead. Done properly, the process can take several months, so don’t leave it until the last minute.

Now that you know that you can take your pet abroad, another important question is whether you should. Even though many pet transporters take every precaution to ensure a safe, comfortable journey for your pet, not all pets are fit for travel.

Small prey animals like rabbits, for example, suffer terribly from stress, and can even die from fright. I chose to rehome my bunny, rather than subject her to 12-14 hours of terrifying transit (the House Rabbit Society agrees with me). I got lucky—she ended up going to live with a neighbor who is an experienced rabbit owner, was thrilled to have her, and is currently sending pictures of herself spoiling my bunny rotten.

Other pets, such as older animals and those with physical problems that might be exacerbated by extended confinement in a kennel, might also do better in a loving home stateside. If you need to rehome your pet, start early, and leave no avenue unexplored. Ask veterinarians if you can leave flyers in their offices. Contact rescue organizations to see if you can bring your pet to their adoption events. And talk to everybody. Everybody. You never know who might have a friend looking for a new friend. (Do not, however, list your pet as “free to a good home,” as this could lead to a most unhappy end for them.)

It’s also important to consider the pet rules and regulations where you’re planning to live. Many apartment leases, for example, forbid pets of any kind. Another example: the neighborhood in Edinburgh where we ended up buying our house has a rule against livestock—and pet rabbits are specifically named as livestock.

Our dog and cat arrived safe and well, and are as happy to be in our new home as we are to have them here. You can bring your pets with you as well. Just know what you’re getting into, do your due diligence, and plan, plan, plan.

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