We are self-admitted cat-crazed people. When our sons were young, we made a family plan in case of fire. We laid out exit routes with the plan to rally at the mailbox to make sure everyone was safe. Our boys asked about the cats, to which we assured them Jiab and I would make sure the cats got to safety. Only years later did one realize, as he put it, “You were personally taking care of the cats, but we were on our own…Thanks a lot!”
So, when we decided to relocate to Spain, there was no question the cats were coming with us. The only question was, how to make it happen?
Two is a magic number.
We’ve always had at least two cats at a time. Our latest twosome, Cory and Benjour, ended with Cory’s passing in October, 2017. Benjour (self-named by our sons as a combination of their names, Ben and Journey), was 15 at that point and had some joint issues. We figured that, if he made it to the following year, he’d travel alone. Then again, love connections always strike at the worst time.
We were at a cat fostering event, and I turned away from Jiab for 5 minutes. When I turned back, my lovely Siamese wife had been joined by another Siamese lady:
I could tell that, no matter how much extra cost or burden, we were going to travel with two cats. The kitten had been named Brandy, so to keep the theme, but make it a bit more Spanish, Jiab rechristened her Sangria.
TIP: You should travel with at least one person per pet, and, optimally, no more than two. Pets travel better with their own handler/calmer, airlines require one person per pet if you are taking the pet in the cabin (see part 2), and many airlines cap onboard pets to four or fewer for all passengers on the flight.
To get the pets over, there are two areas to address:
- The entrance paperwork for your destination.
- The travel logistics getting the pet over there.
Generally, I took the lead in handling the entrance paperwork while Jiab handled travel. As there is a lot of pre-planning, we will address the actual travel logistics in a second post (A Tale of Two Kitties, Part 2).
Always be chipper
Each country has their own set of regulations for admitting pets; there may even be differences within EU member countries. You need to do a LOT of research and start early.
TIP: The United States Department of Agriculture has a great website (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel) you can consult. Be aware this is not the final word by your intended country, but the USDA is pretty accurate and, for us, was spot on!
Like many pet owners, we were worried about a long quarantine period once our pets arrived in Spain, but by following the USDA guidelines, we effectively “quarantined” our cats prior to arrival so that they could pass right through. Websites abound (such as https://www.pettravel.com/index.cfm) that can also guide you. Again, each country, and each type of animal, is a different case, but I will share with you what we had to do for our cats.
Start with chipping. It’s now the universal way to identify each pet and records their medical history. Anything that happens pre-chipping is worthless.
TIP: make sure the chip is ISO (International Standards Organization) 15-digit compatible to be accepted in the EU and other places. We got Benjour chipped for about $15 at a pet store by a visiting vet.
TIP: Save all receipts and records to show chipping date. The vet at the USDA wanted to know exactly when our pet was chipped. For Benjour, I did not have the receipt, but I pulled up an email from the chipping company thanking me for joining the chipping network, which sufficed. For Sangria, we had no receipt, as we adopted her already chipped. Fortunately, the adoption papers indicated she was. As I sarcastically said, “We had bought a microchip, but the receipt for some reason was more interested in describing the cat-container it came in.”
Shot full of Love
Once (and only after) the pets are ISO-chipped, they need to be up on their shots, especially rabies.
There is some pre-planning required here, so last-minuters (like me) need to force themselves out of their comfort zone (If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your pet!).
- If a kitten, there are time requirements as kittens are often given first shots over a period of weeks.
- Some countries require the vaccinations be administered a minimum time (21 days for the EU) before travel, so do your research!
We had the cats vaccinated at a mobile vet. We always had a regular vet we loved, but for routine vaccinations we used mobile vets to save money.
TIP: Save the receipt!!!! Even if you record the date and time of the vaccination on the entrance form (and you will), you need the ORIGINAL receipt that shows the date of the vaccinations (if possible tied to the ISO number).
TIP: You might be required to list the manufacturer, batch number, and serial number of the vaccine itself. We asked the vaccinating vet to write the info on the receipt, plus WE TOOK A PHOTO of the bottle label to confirm the info with our vet.
Spain (and the rest of the EU) requires a last check-up within 10 days of travel. It was sad to say goodbye to a clinic that had been great to our pets for so many years, but it was a chance to thank them all.
More to the point, make sure your vet, or whoever does the final exam, is USDA accredited (we called ahead to double check). You will also need to take in the travel forms for your vet to sign and stamp.
TIP: If your vet is not familiar with filling out the form, preprint one (in English) and send it to him/her ahead of time. When you go in, take in the actual form you need and a translated form (available on the USDA site) if there is any question as to meaning.
TIP: Call ahead. You want to make sure your vet (or another accredited one) is there, as you only have 10 days. You’d hate to have to leave Fluffy because your vet is on vacation!
Once the form is signed off, you have to get it officially stamped and okayed by the USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) office. For us, we took a day to drive to Austin where our closest USDA office is located. You need to pre-plan this as well, as some want appointments. Our office took walk-ins until 1:00 pm, so we got up early and drove.
TIP: You can overnight mail it. We didn’t want to take a chance, however, and it was good we did not. The USDA vet had a question as to when the cats had been chipped that we could answer on site.
We dropped off the form about 11:00 am, then went and had lunch. Our vet called to say the USDA had called him to confirm the data but had the question about chipping. We went back and resolved the matter. The whole process took about two hours, and then we drove home.
TIP: Bring all pet-related info with you, in case of a question. Better to have too much unused animal history than missing that one little, but necessary, bit of proof.
All papered-up and ready for…meh
We’ll get to the transport (and all the unforeseen snags with that) next post, but let me say here how proud of myself I was for getting all the paperwork together. I’m not good at paperwork; Jiab says I could never be an engineer because I say “close enough” too often, but, by golly, I had poured my heart and soul into making sure there was not going to be a problem. I was ready for a Spanish Inquisition as to our pets’ legitimacy to enter.
So, let me say how disappointed I was at our arrival.
We came in to Malaga airport. It’s an international airport in Spain’s 5th biggest city, but it’s not Madrid’s Barajas International by any means.
In the end, we could have just walked into Spain, cats and all. Perhaps it was because we were coming in from Frankfurt, Germany (another EU country), but Jiab and I each had a cat in a carrier and no one seemed to notice. It was only because our luggage didn’t show up, and so we went over to non-EU flight baggage claim, that a customs official happened to look up from his screen and see Jiab with a carrier.
“You have a cat?” he slowly asked. Jiab said yes, to which he replied, “Papers, please.” I was standing about 6 feet away; I could have easily walked on through the door marked “Nothing to declare” and been on my way. Like a student who puts his best effort into one assignment, however, I was not about to have my paperwork go unnoticed and uncollected, nor my cat be “illegal” and fearing the policía for the rest of its stay.
“I have a cat, too,” I said.
He looked over at me, seemingly unsure why I was talking to him, and then asked for papers. While Jiab went off to look again for our bags, I watched as the customs agent slowly perused my magnum opus of bureaucratic compliance.
He flipped through the pages like I flip through the user agreements of websites, said “Vale” (technically “okay,” but it is the Spanish all-purpose word for “yes,” “I see,” and “We’re done here”) and returned my papers. I walked through the doors into the welcoming arms of Spain, knowing that my cats were now officially gatos, free to ignore my calling to them in both English and Spanish.