Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Travelling With Pets

I will start this post by saying that I know there are a lot of folks out there who think you should just find homes for your pets if you join the Foreign Service.

I am decidedly NOT in that camp. You will find me in the camp of people who believe that a) the pets are a lifelong commitment and members of the family, and b) we give up a lot to serve. We shouldn't give up everything. Including our furred and feathered family members.

And while I believe it is worth the inconvenience, travelling with pets is challenging.

For us, we have a "no more pets than hands" rule. It is an airport rule really...one had is needed when we are in the airport for each pet. So two of us, four hands, four pets. Two cats, a dog and a parrot.

Travelling with cats and dogs is easy. Those who tell you it is hard have never traveled with a parrot. Hard is relative.

For the dog and cats, when going overseas, you need proof of rabies vaccine, a visit to a USDA certified vet, and a USDA certificate validated within 10 days of travel. I admit that can be challenging when you are trying to packout, but I have had great success overnighting the form to the USDA and including a return overnight envelope. That worked much better than our first time, when we drove to Richmond and back. And I have had wonderful success in dealing with the animal services folks from USDA. They have always been super friendly and helpful. You may also need additional paperwork

Depending on where you are going, you may also need additional paperwork filled out, as we did for the EU. Our vets at Caring Hands in Arlington helped us with all of it. They are awesome.

Depending on how quickly you get your orders (don't get me started...), making plane reservations can be the most challenging part. We were lucky enough to get our orders in plenty of time coming back this time and so got both cats in cabin and the dog and bird in as excess baggage. One note: make sure you have a dog carrier sized for the smallest plane you will travel on. This is especially true for those with larger dogs than I have.

You may get a travel tech telling you that you MUST fly on the contract carrier. This isn't true and for some destinations, hasn't been for a while. The latest guidance allows you to fly on a carrier other than the contract carrier if you can't fly your pets with the contract carrier. Plus, Fly America doesn't apply if you are going to, from or transiting through the EU. Then the Open Skies treaty applies, meaning you can use an EU flagged airline. This was important for me as American airlines are generally not allowing parrots anymore.

Coming back, we went to a local vet and got pet passports for all the pets except the parrot. This meant having a means to show all of their vaccines and the timing of them as well as that the pets had a last checkup within ten days of travel.

Now if all of that sounds complicated, you have to do all of that and then some to travel with a parrot.

I love my bird. I have had her for 18 years and I will do what I have to in order to travel with her. But a word of advice: if you don't have a bird and are in or joining the Foreign Service, DON'T GET ONE.

Leaving the US, you have to work both with US Fish and Wildlife and the USDA. You do all of the above vet visits and certifications, but you also have to get your bird tested to make sure it doesn't have avian influenza or Newcastle's Disease. This means that you have to find a USDA certified avian vet and have them tested three additional times within that ten days (a ten days, then avian flu test at seven days, results check at five days and final check at two days before travel). Then you need to get a CITES ( Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permit. Actually, you need two...an export permit from the US and an import permit from the country you are heading to. And you have to make an appointment with Fish and Wildlife to examine the bird at the airport as you are leaving (because you need one more thing to do at the airport when you are PCSing). If the airport is not an approved wildlife port, and Dulles is not, you need to get a port exception permit as well.

Coming back, you have to go through this again. Find an avian vet to check your parrot. Get the state vet to sign off on the paperwork from that checkup. Get the import, export and port exception permits. You also need a USDA permit. In fact, let me share with you the email I got from Fish and Wildlife (also really awesome people...I made some mistakes in the process of going TO Estonia, and they helped me sort it all out).

"Thank you for contacting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Dulles office regarding the procedures for importing a pet bird through Washington Dulles International Airport.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must authorize the import of your bird through Dulles. Some pet birds are required to be quarantined for 30 days in a USDA Animal Import Center at the owner’s expense. A reservation at the facility must be made in advance by contacting the USDA port veterinarian. Other birds may qualify for home quarantine. For USDA import procedures and contact information, please visit: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/animals/nonus_pet_bird.shtml.

In addition, imports of pet birds must be processed at a FWS designated port. Under limited circumstances, you may be authorized under a permit to use a port that does not normally handle wildlife trade. You must show that using one of our designated ports would result in substantial deterioration or loss of the wildlife, or would cause undue economic hardship. If you are importing your pet bird through a non-designated port, you must have a copy of your valid Designated Port Exception Permit (DPEP) prior to import. Washington Dulles International Airport is not a designated port.

You can find general information on FWS import procedures at: http://www.fws.gov/le/ImpExp/Info_Importers_Exporters.htm. You may download a DPEP application from this web page. An original signature and a $100 application fee are required. The permit may take 3-6 weeks to process, so plan your import accordingly. Please send your application to:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Office of Law Enforcement
70 E. Sunrise Hwy, Suite 419
Valley Stream, NY 11580
Tel: (516) 825-3950

You must also file a Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife (Form 3-177) with our wildlife inspectors at the port. You may file your declaration electronically (https://edecs.fws.gov/) or in hard copy form (form available at: http://www.fws.gov/le/ImpExp/faqs.htm). Since the bird will be travelling as checked baggage, there are no user fees due for our agency."

All of that is in addition to the CITES permit. And you saw the part about quarantine. We make a point of not bidding on places that require quarantines coming or going. But with birds, if the country gets bird flu while you are there, as happened while we were in Jerusalem, they will still have to be quarantined (and that is if you have done all your paperwork properly...screw up and they might have to kill your bird!). Which means you will be required to fly into a port with quarantine facilities. JFK in New York was what we opted for. That also means going back 30 days later to that port to pick up your bird. But luckily the people at the facility are true bird people and let me send along my bird's favorite toys, food and treats. They took excellent care of her...I was still a nervous wreck.

We were lucky this time and were able to home quarantine our bird. This mean that in addition to meeting the USDA agent at the port to test her, she also had to be tested at our home. The agent came by at 15 days.

And of course, all of this costs money. We paid 85 euros per pet for the flight (I think it should have been more, but I am not complaining). Then we paid all total for all the permits somewhere in the range of $750-$1000 (I don't have the numbers in front of me and it may have been more...I even had to pay an overtime fee because my flight arrived after 4:30 pm). Luckily, what can't be vouchered with the Department can be claimed on my taxes as a moving expense, but that is still pretty pricey.

So the morals of this post are: 1) traveling with pets is challenging but doable (and in my opinion, worth it), 2) make sure you get all your permits, especially for birds, 3) it is going to be expensive, even if you don't use a pet shipper (I have never used one but it often sounds like you are better off handling it yourself if you can), and 4) don't get a parrot if you don't already have one.

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