Traveling With Your Pet

When we decided to come over here, we had a problem: Namely, one 10-year-old dog, Bridget the WonderBeagle. She, too "old" to adapt to a new family, and we, too attached to ever part with the dishlicker. So the obvious answer was for her to come with us.

The moving companies we got to quote for household effects said that they would also quote for shipping the dog, but that they themselves did not do it, but would contract to a third party. We got the 2 quotes (one moving company didn't even bother to quote), and had an attack of "sticker shock". One dog, weighing about 16Kg, shipped Melbourne to New York, would cost us about $1500 [Australian]. Ouch!

Nevertheless, leaving the dog was still not an option, so we decided to check out the animal transporters. The Yellow Pages were quite helpful in getting additional names and addresses of pet transportation companies, and so armed with this list, we made some preliminary calls and went visiting -- after all, it's not a bag of rocks that we were shipping! We went to three places (so as not to bias anyone, let's call them X, Y, and Z; but if you're already looking, you'll know who the 'big three' are anyway).

Place A and B both have premises at Tullamarine, and use wire-mesh cages. Very noisy, very impersonal, and the cage didn't look all that comfortable. Place C was more like it! Friendly, personal attention, a choice of cages, guaranteed comfort stop in L.A. etc. So we decided to use them; the price too, was also a little more reasonable, at around $1350.

To acclimatize the dog, we bought the transport kennel (available from larger pet stores -- Look for the 'Vari-Kennel' brand, a heavy-duty plastic and coated wire-mesh arrangement), and took it home. The WonderBeagle wasn't too happy to try it at first, but after we took away her regular bed, she quickly got the idea! Cost of kennel: $145 Added benefit: It's ours to keep, it's UV stabilized and waterproof, so it can be used as a normal outdoor kennel (once you remove the mesh door).

Next, we got to thinking, "What exactly are we getting for our $1300?" A quick search of the internet (looking specifically at AQIS [Australian Quarantine Inspection Service], and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) showed that it wasn't that difficult to do: All we had to have was (a) an export certificate, and (b) a general health and rabies certificate. But how to move the dog?

Most of the professional movers use Qantas, simply because they fly directly from Melbourne to L.A. (and thus avoid having animals 'mislaid' during shipping), and American Airlines to cross the U.S. The animal goes at "cargo" rates, which, at time of writing, is about $15/kg, and the rate is applied to the greater of the actual weight or volume. A 16kg dog and 4kg kennel should thus be around $300, but the kennel's size is assessed as 45kg (by volume), therefore the charge would be about $675.

So we called up AQIS and asked them about getting the certificates. During the conversation, the person on the other end ask which airline we were flying with, to which we replied "United" [An aside here, for all the United-bashers: in 3 years of fairly frequent flying with United, I have only had two incidents: one, a connecting plane was an hour late, and two, a special meal order wasn't on board. So boo-sucks to all the United-bashers out there!] Anyway, so she said, "In that case, why don't you take the dog as excess baggage?". So we did.

Here's the deal: United is the *only* Australia/US airline that will do it. And it only cost us $129 to have the dog fly with us. [Thanks to David at the United office in Melbourne, who arranged it all]. The dog flies "downstairs" in the cargo hold, which is pressurised and air-conditioned. The animal is last on the plane, and first off, and United uses special tags on the cage, from which they detach a portion once the animal is loaded, to bring to you when seated so you know it's onboard.

To get the certificates, we had to go to an AQIS certified vet, (AQIS will provide a list of vets in your area -- thanks to John & Andrea at Malvern Vet Hospital -- One rabies vaccine at least 30 days before departure ($45), and a check-up and general health certificate within 48 hours of flying ($75). Next, the vaccine and health certificates have to be taken to AQIS (at Tullamarine, for those of you in Melbourne) within 24 hours of departure, where they issue the "official" certificates, for $45. So it's a bit of running around, but worth it in the end.

We cleared customs in San Francisco, and the dog's papers were checked, and that was that! Because Australia is a rabies-free area, there is NO quarantine period -- you just walk on in with the animal... IATA and the airlines 'suggest' that you feed and water the animal within 4 hours of it flying. I agree with the watering bit -- as much, and as often as the animal can stand (it's *very* dry on the plane), but for a long trip [Australia - USA] I'd leave the food out, and make sure the animal is well evacuated before, even if it means missing a regular feed or having it a lot earlier than normal. Not only will it save you the problem of cleaning the kennel, but it will ease the animal's trip as they won't have any undue urges during shipment and won't soil themselves. It also gives them less to deal with if they have any motion-sickness... So here's the bottom line: The total cost to us was:

  • Kennel $145
  • Baggage Fee $129
  • Vaccine $45
  • Health Check $75
  • Certificates $45
  • Total: $439
  • Saving: $911 at least!

Note that because of Australian quarantine regulations you have MAJOR problems taking an animal back to OZ-- depending on the time away, it will have to be quarantined for anything from 1 to 6 months. And you will need full vet. history re. rabies vaccinations, etc.

Michael Merwitz

New York