I flew a cat to Italy last week.
Sophie was supposed to move to Tuscany with her family last month. But when she went in for her international health certificate, no microchip could be found.
Suddenly her family was forced to figure out what to do with their adorable tuxedo cat. Find a new home for her? Return her to the rescue she was adopted from? Relinquish her to the post stray facility and hope she'd find a great forever home? Hire an expensive pet shipper to transport her from Kansas to Italy? Enlist a trusted, pet-savvy friend with a current passport to bring her over after the waiting period?
My friends had adopted Sophie, one of three kittens they fostered, earlier this year.
She stole their hearts with her affectionate nature, her frequent un-catlike requests for belly rubs and her outlandish zeal for chasing a laser pointer. She had become part of their family, and they had to do whatever they could to keep her.
As soon as they received orders to Italy, they began making arrangements for their feline family members. They were diligent about making sure all of their cats (their kids, truly) were ready to go, that everything was in place. International travel requires a 15-digit microchip, so they had to re-chip their other cats, who had older, 12-digit microchips. Sophie's records said she was chipped with the required 15-digit chip and should have been good to go.
STUCK IN KANSAS
When they were at the post veterinary clinic for the cats' 10-day international health certificates, Sophie's microchip could not be located and thus she could not be transported until a month after a new chip was implanted and she was subsequently re-vaccinated.
My friends had to fly out as scheduled with their other cats, and Sophie was left with me.
As you can imagine, leaving her behind caused my friends a lot of stress and heartache, not to mention unexpected expense. They decided they wanted me to transport her to their new home after the required wait time.
I was thrilled about visiting them in Italy, but terrified something would go wrong. To alleviate my worry, I worked through every scenario I could think of. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and I never had to implement a contingency plan.
Before the journey, I fed Sophie treats in her carrier so she knew it was an inviting and safe space. Before long she was going into the small airline-approved carrier on her own asking for the treats. This conditioning was tremendously helpful. She was so comfortable in the carrier along the way that she happily settled in for naps and even rolled over onto her back for belly rubs.
I worked with her to help her be comfortable in a harness and on a leash, just in case I had the opportunity to give her a break outside her carrier during that long trip. (You can't just throw a harness and leash on a cat -- this is a gradual process. If not done properly, they could injure themselves or run off.) Once at the airport, the cat could not be removed from the carrier. Sophie had to be removed from the carrier when we went through security so the carrier could be x-rayed, and I was glad to have the extra assurance of the harness in case she tried to leap free. After our first flight, I removed the harness so she could sleep, stretch and be more comfortable during the long flight to Italy.
I lined her carrier with puppy pads in case she needed to relieve herself. (She didn't.) I offered her water a couple times along the way, though she only lapped up a couple swallows. She arrived after the long trip in great shape, ready to explore her new home.
-- CHECK THE CHIP Ask your vet to check for your pets' chips when you have them at the clinic for appointments. My cat usually gets scanned when he is vaccinated, just to make sure the chip is working and hasn't moved. Also, don't rely on a microchip alone -always have a current phone number attached to your pet's collar.
-- VET VISIT If you use a civilian veterinarian, take your pets to the veterinarian who will be issuing the health certificate before the deadline. He/she will know the requirements and will be able to prepare you and your pet. For international travel, the 15-digit microchip is required, and current vaccinations must have been given AFTER insertion, so if a new chip is required, you'll need about a month before the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow the animal to travel. Veterinarians have told me situations like Sophie's happen fairly often, and families are forced to part with their pets or incur great expense.
-- FAMILY CARE PLAN Have a family care plan for your pets. Know what you would do in this described situation and other scenarios. Do you have someone who would care for your pet long-term if necessary? Have you researched programs like Guardian Angels For Soldier's Pet that offer long-term foster care for service members? Can you afford to have your pet transported to you, either by a reputable company or by a trusted, pet-savvy family member or friend? Would you consider re-homing the pet, and if so, how would you go about it and what agencies/rescues would you contact?
-- Prudence Siebert, pet photographer and international cat courier