The Odyssey

We’ve implied this in a few posts so far, so we ought to just come out and say it: our entire two-month trip around Europe was Schaefer’s fault. That’s right, ALL HIS FAULT. You see, given his ferocious and untamed nature, the British and Irish governments do not allow him (or any non-service dogs, for that matter) to be brought in the cabins of airplanes heading into the British Isles. Considering that this wild beast stresses out at the very thought of being left alone (see our posts about the ferry crossing), stowing him in cargo for an 8+ hour transatlantic flight simply wasn’t an option. As such, we opted to keep Schaefer in the cabin of the airplane and make a stop on the European mainland before venturing to London via other means. Simple enough, right? NO, NOOOOOOOOO. You see, transporting a dog from the US to Europe for a quick turnaround into the UK—with their own distinct regulations—is a story unto itself. What follows is just that; the story of our how we got Schaefer to London through Europe. Enjoy!

[But before I do, I need to give a huge shout out to Kiley, who did all of this on her own. I offered emotional and comedic support along the way, but not much else. Our eventual success in getting Schaefer to London was due 100% to her hard work.]

The whole process started out with copious amounts of research. Our situation was pretty unique, at least in terms of timeframes, etc., so dozens of hours were spent combing through websites and forums in the US and abroad (often written in poor English), just to get an idea of where to start and what was needed. Actual action started in late 2016 with consultations with our vet in Indianapolis. The office would prove to be very helpful throughout the process, beginning with a referral to the proper USDA website and contact details. We knew Schaefer required an EU Health Certificate endorsed by the USDA in order to enter the European Union; however, the specific requirements for the certificate sometimes differed, depending on the source. Thanks to the guidance of the Indy vet and some helpful contacts at the USDA, we were able to get a pretty comprehensive checklist of Schaefer’s treatments and work out a rough timetable for our travels by early 2017.

By April, we had sold our house in Indy and shacked up temporarily with family in Michigan. For this story, that meant changing vets to Kiley’s long-time office in Livonia. Unfortunately, they were much less helpful than our friends in Indianapolis. Despite having the proper USDA credentials and charging extra to draw up the certificate paperwork, the doctors at the practice were not knowledgeable and generally indifferent to our questions and concerns. We ended up having several issues with this office, including but not limited to: telling us to “do your own research” when asked about the health certificate, attempting to charge us double for a duplicate certificate, and issuing an EXTRA AND UNECESSARY VACCINE in place of the required rabies vaccine. The worst, however, may have been an error in the paperwork that listed the wrong serial number for Schaefer’s rabies vaccine. The mistake, discovered by Kiley the DAY BEFORE WE LEFT and after we’d received the USDA verification stamp, could’ve resulted in us being turned away in Portugal if not corrected.

Had it not been for the timely intervention of the nice office manager to smooth things over on a few occasions, Kiley would’ve rampaged through that office like Godzilla through New York in the late 1990s (fire breath included). Despite the universe’s strongest efforts, we were eventually able to finalize the proper paperwork at the vet office. In a bit of passive-aggressive theater as we collected our final paperwork, we stood at the counter of the vet’s office for about 15 minutes tediously double-checking every entry and whispering loudly between ourselves “I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE IT’S ALL CORRECT THIS TIME” (sounds petty, but it felt good).

Now, one might think that simply obtaining a health certificate is sufficient to get your dog into the EU… well, one would be wrong. Why? Logistics. More specifically, you need to book your dog onto a flight, buy the proper carrier, and clear customs. Booking Schaefer onto a flight was WAY more difficult than it should’ve been, due mostly to airline procedures. You see, before booking Schaefer’s ticket, we had to book our own tickets; however, before booking our own tickets, we had to ensure that the flight had space for a dog—information that could only be obtained via telephone (with the inevitable 30-minute wait for each call). Having to do this for a 3-leg 2-airline trip turned into a dizzying 7-hour carousel of clicks and calls during which I lost more than the average amount of hair.

Logistical challenge #2: finding the right carrier. For starters, despite his diminutive size, Schaefer actually pushes the weight and size limits for dogs that you can bring into the cabins of most airlines. As such, we basically needed to find the largest carrier that would be allowed on both the airlines we were using (United and TAP Portugal). The limit: 17” x 11” x 9”. We tried a few different carriers (thanks for the Amazon Prime account, Mom!), but none met the size guidelines while allowing Schaefer adequate space. So, we decided to use a soft-shelled carrier that was over the size limits (shh, don’t tell), but could be contorted to fit fully under the seat in front of us. We were a little nervous that the airlines would bust out the measuring tape, but Schaefer was so well-behaved that most people (airline employees and seatmates included) didn’t even realize he was there.

Clearing customs was the last logistical hurdle and it is different than clearing customs with bags. The EU requires that a certified veterinarian review your paperwork and check the animal upon arrival in order to provide the necessary verification stamps to allow for further travel in Europe. In order to ensure that there is an airport vet on duty when we arrived in Portugal, Kiley filled out and submitted well ahead of time paperwork detailing our arrival time, flight number, etc. Lest you think this part of the trip was to go smoothly, let me inform you that the vet station was CLOSED when we arrived at Lisbon Airport. Considering we still had a connecting flight to Italy to catch, we had a pretty nerve-wracking wait as our calls to the after-hours number went unanswered. Nonetheless, living up to the Portuguese reputation for punctuality, our vet did arrive a cool 30-45 minutes late and—after a brief meeting with Schaefer—we were on our way to Italy.

Our plans to move from Italy to The Netherlands presented a big question for Schaefer’s paperwork, and not one we were able to adequately answer. You see, the EU Health Certificate indicated that it was valid for four months of travel; however, every mode of travel within Europe (airlines, ferries, trains, etc.) indicated that an EU Pet Passport was required for Schaefer to travel. An EU Pet Passport is a small booklet—roughly the size of a human passport—that contains the animal’s identifying information (description, microchip number, etc.) and history of vaccinations, treatments, and health checks.

Wanting to play it safe and knowing that we’d be travelling more in Europe over the next couple of years, we opted to get Schaefer his passport. Using her expert Italian skillz, Kiley was able to secure the necessary appointment (we hoped) at the vet facility outside of Perugia, our Italian home base for June. However, the directions to the facility we received were difficult to understand (“go to the cemetery and turn right”) and our temporary phone ran out of minutes as we sought to clarify the location. Turning to Google Maps for help only heightened our uncertainty because it had us going to a completely different area than our telephone contact. On the day of our appointment, we decided to ignore Google and ventured out early with our fingers crossed. Alas, we were able to locate the property and were guided to the correct building by a couple of volunteers that spoke excellent English.

The appointment itself was pretty smooth. The requirements for Schaefer’s passport were essentially the same for the EU Health Certificate, so we were able to use the latter and it’s supporting paperwork (by this time, bulging to at least 50 pages) to secure and populate the Pet Passport. There were a few differences in veterinary conventions that required some creative problem solving, but everything got worked out. After 20 minutes and 26 euro, Schaefer had his shiny new passport, which brought us immense relief. Side note, Schaefer had to be registered within Italy to receive the passport, so his official address is Dorine’s apartment in Perugia. [Dorine, feel free to forward us any of his mail! 🙂 ]

After securing the Pet Passport, the last remaining step was a UK-specific requirement that Schaefer be treated for tapeworm 1-5 days before entry. Given that we were taking the ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, we decided to make this appointment in Rotterdam (rather than in Italy before leaving). This would give us a little more time in The Netherlands, which proved to be a very good idea. The vet in Rotterdam was awesome and super nice—especially considering that we went to the wrong office and were a little bit short on cash after our cards wouldn’t work. While there, Schaefer received his chewable tapeworm treatment and a full health check (which is required for all international travel, but we neglected to get prior to flying to Rotterdam :/ ).

With that, we had completed the whole checklist. Schaefer had two valid travel documents (EU Health Certificate, EU Pet Passport) and all his treatments done at the correct intervals (rabies vaccination, tapeworm treatment, health check). Nonetheless, we were still worried. There were plenty of stories of UK border personnel turning away or threatening to quarantine pets whose owners claimed to have followed procedures. In fact, the owner of our hotel in Abetone, Italy told us that he experienced the same situation himself. The anxiety prompted conversations between Kiley and I throughout the trip about what we’d do if they turned us away (I won’t divulge details, but cue the Mission: Impossible music).

But, alas, everything on the last leg of our journey went smoothly. Once we were past UK customs and on the train to London, we finally had a second to reflect. I remember the moment vividly; I was shuffling around our bags and checking the map on my phone when Kiley grabbed my arm. I stopped and turned to look at her, but her eyes were fixed on Schaefer. She slowly tightened her grip and looked at me, “we made it, we actually made it.” And she was right; after 9 months, a lot of money on treatments, and a TON of stress, we had actually made it.

 

AFTERWORD:

We decided to share this part of our story from two reasons: 1) to give more context to references and comments made in previous posts; and 2) to provide information for anyone reading this that is thinking about international travel with a pet. This story as a whole is pretty atypical, and there were even more nuances particular to our situation that we didn’t share; however, there may be helpful tidbits and lessons to be learned from our experience.

Overall, if you’re thinking about international travel with a pet, we recommend that you do your research WELL IN ADVANCE. For the straight-forward “out and back” trips, the information online should be sufficient (always check government and airline websites). However, if your travels are more complex or you have some concerns, we definitely recommend that you pick up the phone. Call the relevant authorities in your departing country, as well as the destination country—and anywhere in between. And always, ALWAYS double- and triple-check your paperwork!

If you have questions, feel free to reach out to us directly or leave a question in the comment section below. Happy travels!

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