Planning to move our family overseas has had its share of challenges. The whole “what am I going to do for work?” thing was certainly no small decision to maneuver, but you might be surprised at what else was high on the list: Figuring out what is required when moving your pet to a foreign country.
This is Gus. If you haven’t had the pleasure, you should know that he is an integral part of Team Soell and has been since 2007. Pretty much anytime we consider going on any sort of extended adventure—like our two month-long trips to California—we consider leaving Gus behind. Then, about 2 minutes later, we realize that we couldn’t possibly bear to be away from this sweet guy and go about figuring out what we need to do to make sure he can come along for the ride.
Turns out, taking a dog on an airplane to a country thousands of miles away? A bit more complicated than a cross-country roadtrip. Who knew? There are actually two main categories of issues that need to be addresses when relocating with a dog of Gus’ size: travel logistics and health / certification concerns
Checking two suitcases—and a border collie
I understand that smaller dogs can actually ride in the plane with you; For us this was not even a remote possibility. Clocking in at a solid 42 pounds, there’s no way I’m letting Gus sit on my lap for a 14 hour plane ride. That leaves us with the options of storing Gus in the luggage compartment or shipping him as cargo. It didn’t take much research before we knew which option we had to go with here. Neither option sounds very great, but at least the luggage compartment is pressurized and temperature controlled. There’s no way we’re letting our pup hang out in cargo.
There are, however, some requirements as far as which planes will accept a dog in the luggage area—and of course it’s not the big ones that will do it. So because of the logistics in making sure we were on planes that would accommodate Gus in luggage, we’ve got a two-layover trip in store for us: Columbus to Boston to Paris to Prague.
Additionally, there are some pretty specific rules about the type of crate that we can transport him in: It needs to be made out of hard plastic or metal on all sides with a door that will allow him to be fed without opening it. Gus has had the same old metal crate for years, so he was due for an upgrade anyway. I present you with the new Chateau du Gus.
You might not be able to tell without the dog for scale, but this this is enormous. There are actually optional wheel mounts you can put on it. And it’s a good thing, because I think we’re going to need it. Seriously, Gus is going to be living large in this bad boy.
Finally, we had to make an official reservation for Gus after our own tickets were purchased. This involved a few minutes on the phone with a surprisingly helpful customer service representative who asked us a bunch of things like how much he weighed and how big the crate was, after which she put in the official request with the specific carriers (in our case Air France and KLM). Then 48 hours later we called back to confirm that he was booked.
Part two of the rigamarole involved in getting your pet overseas is the part where you convince your host country that your animal isn’t a threat to their eco system. We’re actually just at the front end of this process now, because it involves a whole lot of very specifically timed events, and it all depends on the country you’re going to. In our case we need to:
- Make sure Gus is up to date on all of his US immunizations
- Get him microchipped with a chip that is compatible with the European standards, so that he can be verified upon entering the country
- After being microchipped, he needs to have his rabies vaccination updated. This must be done after the microchip has been implanted, but must be done at least 21 days before departure: Our deadline: September 29.
- A European certificate of health must be signed and ready for presentation upon arrival in Prague (and possibly for our layover in Paris). Once signed, this certificate is good for only 10 days so, allowing for some margin of error, Gus needs to be examined within the week before our departure.
- In addition to getting this certificate within the week before our departure, we also need to get it certified by the US government. This will involve a drive out to Pickerington.
We actually reached out to APHIS—the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is a division of the US Department of Agriculture—and they were amazingly thorough in telling us exactly what we needed. Time will tell whether what they told us turns out to be accurate, but I feel a lot more at ease about what we have to do even though it is quite a bit.
After all of this—after booking our tickets on just the right planes and making sure his crate is up to code, after getting Gus microchipped and vaccinated and certified—what happens on the day of the actual departure? We will wheel Gus in his fancy new crate to the airport with us (and our 6 giant suitcases) and check him in just like he was another bag. There is a $200 fee for his reservation, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure whether we’ll even get to see him during our layovers. He’ll kind of be at the mercy of the baggage handlers, which bothers me a little bit, but I know we aren’t the first ones to make this journey. So we’ll say our goodbyes and count the hours until we pick up our furry friend in Prague, ready to start our new adventure together. We already have some pet-friendly temporary housing lined up, so once we make our safe arrival we will have plenty of time to recuperate.
Forty five days to go.