Shipping your pets over-seas

Travelling with pets
Travelling with pets

I received a request to offer some insight on the challenges…and triumphs of emigrating with your family pets.

For us, it wasn’t a question of ‘if’…it was however, five month of figuring out ‘how’?

When you think of the logistics involved, you need to be extremely organized.

In our situation, our belongings left before us.  We spent the last week in a rental accommodation while the kids remained in school, to hang onto some semblance of normalcy. As we said our good-byes — we needed to remember the dogs were becoming anxious seeing their world disappear around them.

We have two whippets, they’re brothers.  At the time of the move our puppy Cosmo was only seven months old.  His brother Pharaoh was two years old.

We vaccinated the dogs three months prior to our departure.  Rabies requires two shots, several weeks apart.  It’s important you start the process early.

Cosmo’s travel plan was difficult because he was still growing.  Measuring his crate size was guess-work.  We had to forecast his expected weight and height at time of travel.  And in the end, the crate provided by our Irish supplier, which was guaranteed to be IATA-approved, turned out NOT to be Air Canada-approved.

The dogs were fine on the British Midlands to Heathrow flight.  But while we were in transit at Heathrow we were telephoned at our hotel and told the crates were unacceptable to bring on Air Canada the next morning and we’d need to produce new ones — within our lay-over of 12 hours.

We were relieved the company we hired to ship Pharaoh from Heathrow to Halifax, Air Supply, had received a shipment of crates and our Irish supplier excepted the fees for their mistake — but it could have been a disaster.  And at this point in our journey our stress levels were already peaking and it was all we could do to keep calm and carry on…

Make sure the company you use is reputable and don’t take short-cuts.  We even had referrals for our Irish supplier and we still ended up in a predicament.

Emigrating from Dublin, Ireland to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the winter adds another layer to the adventure.

At the time, Air Canada had only one Airbus with a heated cargo compartment flying to Halifax each week.  Temperatures can vary dramatically in the winter and if it gets too cold – they won’t take them.  If they’re in transit this poses and even greater difficulty as they could be stuck ‘in transit’ until weather changes, flights open, etc.

Remember once they’re on the move, they’re not allowed out of their crates while in transit. Or food. Their crate may be placed within a larger pen to allow them to stretch their legs – but that depends on the time of the lay-over, the staff on-hand (weekend or weekday) and the airport.

We planned for the worst — but hoped for the best and I had Air Supply on speed-dial.

We had the choice of hiring a company to ship the dogs all the way from Ireland to Canada, but transit was posing problems.  We were quoted approximately  E 5,000 to send them via Frankfurt, Germany and for us, this seemed too far out of the way and over-priced.

So I found a more cost-effective option.

Frankfurt airport, it should be noted, is supposed to be one of the best animal airports in Europe — they apparently have excellent facilities.

If your dog is light (like Cosmo was at the time), you’ve the option to take them as ‘excessive baggage.’  They calculate the weight based on the dog plus the crate. Excess baggage can save you a lot of money.  I’m trying to recall, but believe it was a difference of a few hundred versus over a thousand euros.

Excess baggage versus cargo

Air Canada, however, only allows you to take one animal as excess baggage per flight.

So sadly, Cosmo went excess baggage, while Pharaoh had to go cargo (even though I believe their crates were beside each other on the flight).

The one flight out of Heathrow didn’t allow enough time for the dogs to transfer in one day, which is why we had to lay-over for one night.  Animals need at least four to five hours in-transit at Heathrow for security clearance.

You have to arrive at the airport four hours before flying to check-in.  We opted to spend the night at an animal-friendly, Dublin airport hotel.

We arranged for the Dublin-Heathrow handler to collect Pharaoh and Cosmo at the hotel.  The crates were huge and would never fit into our airport taxi — remembering we had suitcases with enough clothing to last us until our belongings arrived in port six to eight weeks later.

The Irish shipper took the dogs to the airport and handled their check-in, security and transfer within Heathrow, to the holding kennel where they spent the night.  We didn’t see Pharaoh until we landed two days later in Halifax.

Cosmo was travelling as excess baggage so Air Supply arranged to deliver him to our Heathrow airport hotel early the next morning.  We had to deliver him to the airport, along with his crate and water funnel.  We were responsible for checking him in and clearing security – four hours early.

It was hard on the girls as he wasn’t allowed out of the crate once he was in the airport and he was nervous and hungry.

Pharaoh on his way to Canada.
Pharaoh on his way to Canada.

Upon landing we had to clear customs – which took two hours for my husbands paperwork to be completed.

We then had to drive to an external warehouse to collect Pharaoh and bring him back to the airport, for another hour, while he cleared customs.

It was a long two days.

All in all, I’d say their travel cost us just over E 3,000, plus a night in Heathrow.  They’re the most expensive whippets in town — and better live long lives!

It was definitely more work doing it the way we did, via London, but worth the reassurance, knowing they had made both flights safely and would land in Canada with us.

The good news is — they made it.

They love the snow (in their coats) and after a few strange weeks, they became happy again.

They walk the girls every morning to the bus stop and wait at the top of the drive for them to return at the end of the day.  They’re not a breed built for Canadian winters, but they’be made Canada home, love the woods and love chasing all the squirrels.

The boys walking the girls to the bus stop before school.
The boys walking the girls to the bus stop before school.

Here’s a few other tips to consider:

  • Two – three months before going:  get their passports (pictures and all)
  • Get all necessary vaccinations and have them stamped into passports. The vaccination requirements vary by country.  Consult your vet – but also go online and look at the immigration policies for the country you’re travelling too.
  • Research crates – they have to be big enough for dogs to stand and turn, plus a little extra, but not enough that they’d be injured in turbulence.  Our biggest problem here was that our dogs are skinny – so they needed custom-made crates.
  • **Vet sign-off — your vet needs to give written authorization that animals are fit for travel.  This has to be done within 48 hours of landing in your new country (just one more stress to add to your pre-departure day)
  • Heathrow website has handy tips for transporting your animals