One of the biggest things that concerned us when we decided on our move to the US was the issue of transporting our dear Rusty over. This was the one thing we HAD to get right as we didn’t want any screw ups in the paper work to render us separated from our furkid or even worse, having him destroyed by the American authorities. (ok, a leetle overdramatic here but the possibility is there!)
I started my research by reading up information on the websites of the American CDC – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the USDA APHIS – US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As with most government sites, there is a fair amount of cross referencing to different regulations and additional resources, so that took some time to go through to ensure I had all bases covered. It did get a bit frustrating at some point when I read that different states might have unique laws; and after locating the Illinois site, realised that they pointed me right back to the federal rules again.
While the information was there, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the whole process as it involved having to adhere to regulations on both the Singaporean as well as the American side. Luckily, our friends J and H brought their dog Otto to Boston last year and were a huge practical resource to tap on for help. In fact, they were one of the first people we told and met up with after our move was confirmed. Having been trained in the art of understanding government speak all these years at work, it was still a challenge having to understand some of Singapore Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority – AVA’s rules. H helped me a lot by running everything through step by step with me. I also found this blog of an American couple (Jeff and Flora) who moved from Singapore back to California really helpful too.
So despite all of that, there were still some differences in how everything went in the end, here’s a step by step for posterity sake.
Rabies Vaccination – The US requires a dog to be vaccinated against Rabies at least 30 days before entry or have proof that it has lived in a rabies free country for more than 6 months. Technically, Singapore has been rabies free since the 1950s so that was good enough for us. But we consulted our vet anyway during Rusty’s annual check up in May and realised that Rabies was not included by default in the vaccinations that we bring Rusty in for each year. In fact, most dogs in Singapore don’t have it. Shows how confident our government is in our Rabies free status i guess. We jabbed him anyway and it was a good move on hindsight since the city we now live in requires it for us to obtain a pet license for Rusty.
Export License – AVA issues a license for the export of animals out of Singapore that is valid for 30 days, hence it cannot be applied for too early. I only had to fill up some details and submit a scanned a copy of Rusty’s current pet license online. I had some confusion regarding payment (apparently you only pay after it is approved) but it was relatively painless as there was no need to go down to AVA. The certificate could be downloaded and printed at home.
Health Certificate – This was also a time sensitive thing as the US authorities only accepted a certificate from a licensed vet issued within 5 days of the import. As we were leaving on a Monday, we had to do everything on a Friday and crossed fingers that there were no hiccups over the weekend. We visited the vet bright and early and received a certificate that stated that Rusty was in general good health and had no visible signs of screwworm. Our friends J and H actually stopped here but kiasu me read on Jeff & Flora that I could get AVA to endorse the health certificate and state officially that our vet was licensed in Singapore, so off I went to AVA after the vet visit.
At AVA, the kind people there were really helpful in answering my questions. They were pretty concerned over differing regulations in different American states as well and advised that I converted my vet’s health cert into a government issued version, i.e. with AVA letterhead and signatories as opposed to just putting a chop on my vet’s version. Apparently some other countries have such requirements. So, I ended up paying $47 for an express version of this cert so that I could get it done on the same day.
Booking the Flight
Again we took the advice of J and H who had used KLM and Lufthansa for Otto’s journey to/from Boston. It wasn’t the cheapest of flights but we went with Lufthansa because it was tried and tested. We had to book directly with Lufthansa so that we could reserve a place for Rusty in the cargo and to make sure that we had no code sharing flights for our journey to ensure a more seamless transfer of Rusty from one plane to another. Some airlines required additional paperwork but Lufthansa only need us to comply with the US regulations (or whichever place we were bringing him to).
For completeness sake, I did check out other airlines such as United and Swiss Air as well but the timings did not work out or there were other considerations like the transit location. For example, one of the United Flights stopped in Hong Kong and that would have required another set of paperwork since HK needed records even for transiting animals. I also wanted to make sure that we didn’t have to change planes too often to reduce the probability of Rusty not making the flight with us. Even if it was the same plane, I had to check how long the plane was going to sit on the tarmac as not all airlines removed the animal from the cargo section during that time, possibly leading to heatstroke for the animal.
Singapore Airlines was completely out of the picture though, they explicitly reject taking any kind of Terrier breed on their planes. Whatzup with that right? I think they lump my little munckin with aggressive breeds like the Pit Bull Terrier or something. Honestly, knowing how pet unfriendly Singapore is, I also wasn’t so sure our national carrier was experienced or caring enough to entrust my Rusty to.
This actually turned out to be the easiest thing to do since our boy would do anything for his treats! Initially, Lufthansa suggested that we brought him onboard with us in the cabin based on his weight. But after measuring Rusty, we soon realised that there was no way that he could have fit comfortably under the seat in front to travel with us. We bought a crate using the measurements provided by United.
We started crate training Rusty about 2 months before our journey. He was immediately curious when we brought the crate home and we let him explore it on his own without forcing him inside. To encourage him more, we also threw in some of his treats once in a while so that there was always something positive to look forward to when he went in. In fact, he loved it so much that it became his protective space, he hid from us whenever we wanted him to do something he didn’t or he would hide in the dark corner back facing me and do naughty things like lick his paws, something which i disallow him to do. Towards our departure date, he even went to bed on his own inside without any coaxing.
I have to qualify that we didn’t close the gate on him until a week before we left. We did it gradually, first leaving him inside for 1 min, then a few more, then an hour, 4 hours and then overnight when he slept inside. He was always rewarded going in and later when he came out. Throughout the crate training, I could tell that Rusty felt very clam and secure in it and it was probably the best thing that helped him cope with his long journey to the US. Though he was quite reluctant to go back in after he came out of his 26 hour flight, he has since learnt to accept it as his safe haven again since we have reached here.
Read about the actual journey here.