In the 21st century, more and more of us consider our pets part of our families. Regardless of the varied reasons why people have pets, or the way these relationships manifest, this means that when we think about spending lengthy parts of our lives abroad, we must take our critters into consideration.
The decision of whether or not to bring your pet with you when you go abroad is often complicated and shaped by a number of factors, such as:
- The pet’s personality and living needs
- The distance you’ll be traveling to get to the foreign country and how you’ll be getting there
- Animal import/export and quarantine policies in both the home and away countries
- Your financial support
- Veterinary care resources and accessibility in your new destination
- Cultural norms in the away country that will shape everything from finding pet-friendly housing, to bringing your pet on public transportation.
I’ve talked to a few graduate students who have pets (all dogs in this case) and have conducted long-term research overseas, thus pulling together some foundational information to consider when making this important decision.
So, should I bring my pet with me?
Size Matters! So does distance! Oh, and breed…and your pet’s personality . . .Interviewees Jonathan and Ruth both have dogs who are on the large size and hefty travel times from the United States to sites in sub-Saharan Africa, where they con
duct their research. But don’t think that kept them from considering asking their pooches to make the trip. Christine’s experience was slightly different, with an easygoing dog who weighs in at 12 pounds and a field site in the Caribbean.
“The traditional anthropology field work of 1 year was really stressful to plan, especially in trying to figure out where the dogs would go. I thought about taking them with and even looked up vets and dog boarding services in Kenya, but I felt bad about taking huskies to the tropics. I would not have been able to live in the village and would have needed to find a place with air conditioning. I even asked my parents if they could come with me to Kenya and help take care of the dogs while I conducted interviews. 🙂 However, all of the places I looked at were beyond the allotted living allowance specified in my grant applications, so I would have needed more than one grant to fund the dogs moving abroad with me (and my parents).”
Other personal factors came into p
lay for Ruth, and after deciding that long-term boarding was not an option, she and her advisors “agreed to an intensive and shortened field period,” much to her relief.
“I would love to bring him [Ben] with me but I don’t think that would be possible. The trip is so long and since he freaks out in crates, I think it would be too much for him.”
Ben’s anxiety, epilepsy, and sensitivity all make travel difficult for him. Unfortunately, these things also made finding a reliable caretaker at home a challenge, and Jonathan still struggles with the concern that his dog thinks he’s been abandoned. If pictures say anything though, Jonathan’s already been forgiven!
“Transporting Nader to the Dominican Republic was surprisingly easy! . . . We’ve traveled with Nader often in the past; he’s very small (~12lbs) and has this duffel-bag-for-dogs-luggage-thingy that he basically just passes out in under the seat on the plane. He’s not a nervous traveler at all.”
So, Christine and her husband, Mike, stocked up on anticipated necessities, got Nader his doggie passport, and brought him to the tropics!
I have decided to leave my pet behind . . . now what?
You are going to miss your pet terribly! So, let’s just accept that missing the critter is inevitable. What are some other things you can expect if you leave your pet behind?
One of the biggest challenges folks talk about is finding an affordable and reliable care situation for pets while abroad. For many of us, especially for students and young adults, long-term boarding facilities are likely to be cost prohibitive. Both Ruth and Jonathan looked into it for their dogs and found that it just wasn’t realistic. But other options are out there.
Find someone who is willing to trade free rent for house and dog-sitting duties! This option worked out well for both Jonathan and Ruth, though they went about it differently.
Before heading to Bolivia for a summer field school several years ago, Ruth began the process of finding a house/dog-sitter. She advertised on craigslist, interviewed prospects, checked references, introduced potential fits to the dogs, and eventually picked. To ensure the dog-sitter would offer the expected standard of care, she had her move in a few weeks early and checked in regularly from abroad.
For his most recent trip to Zimbabwe, Jonathan started out advertising as Ruth had, but struggled to find someone who actually seemed interested in caring for the dog as opposed to just getting free rent. He eventually gave up on Craigslist and began spreading the word in his network and through a friend of a friend, he found a fellow free spirit who just so happened to be a dog-lover in need of a place to live. Before leaving, Jonathan set up a few meetings between Ben and the sitter to make sure they got along well. While this didn’t completely ease his nerves about leaving his dog, it ensured comfort with the care Ben would get while he was away.
Friends with pets
Like folks with kids, oftentimes those of us with pets have a network of friends with similar pets. These friends are a great resource, especially for trips that are a couple of months or less, but may also be able to help for longer excursions. These friends are probably like-minded when it comes to caring for the pet and you’ll be able to return the favor down the line.
I head to India this fall for 7 weeks and, while I can rely on my husband to watch our fabulous border collie/lab mix, I have a much larger animal friend who will need extra attention – my horse, Reed. Fortunately, since I board him at a nearby stable, Reed’s actual living arrangements will stay the same, but I want to make sure that he gets sufficient riding time, cookies, and kisses while I’m away. For my particular situation, this means relying upon a combination of paying a professional trainer to ride him and asking my horse friends to drop in, pick up a few extra rides, and spend some time snuggling.
Similarly, for many of her trips, Ruth has relied heavily upon her network of close friends with dogs. Because they already have dogs to walk and feed and otherwise care for, the work associated with her dogs comes more easily.
Ask your family
If you’re already living with a significant other who helps care for your pet, this one may seem like a no-brainer: your live-in partner is a great resource for helping to care for your pet(s) while you’re abroad. But what if your partner is coming with you, or for some reason won’t be able to be the primary or sole caretaker of the pet? Other family members can be helpful as well. For some of her trips to Kenya, Ruth has driven cross-country in order to leave her dogs with her own parents. While this is not always realistic, especially with a cross-country drive, her parents always enjoy the opportunity to help out when they can and she gets extra visits with them on drop-off and pick-up. For folks with local family, this arrangement can be all the easier.
I think I want to bring my pet abroad. What do I need to know?
Should you decide bring your pet abroad, you’ll have a number of things to get in line before you go, and you’ll need to be prepared once you get there to expect the unexpected.
Before you go:
• Get your basic paperwork in order. Christine got her dog, Nader, a “pet passport” and a document proving his vaccination against rabies.
• Find out the animal import/export and quarantine laws between your home country and the country where you’ll be living.
• Contact airlines that service your cities to make sure you understand whether and which animals are allowed, where in the plane (cargo or cabin) your particular animal will have to fly, decide if you are comfortable with this (cargo is increasingly recognized as unsafe, especially for certain breeds of dog), and what you’ll need to do to prepare. Depending on the climate in your points of origin and destination, your pet may not be able to travel at all.
• Depending on the veterinary and vet drugs situation in your destination country, you may want to stockpile some basic and emergency meds your pet could need. For example, before leaving, Christine and Mike “stocked up on HeartGuard, purchased emergency antibiotics, transitioned his [Nader’s] diet to food we could find in the Dominican Republic, [and] made sure he was up to date on his immunizations.”
Be ready for the unexpected:
Some of these things may be discernible from afar, but some of them you’ll just have to find out the hard way.
• What will the transportation situation be to get there and then once you’re there? For example, Christine has been surprised by how easy it is to get around with her dog in the Dominican Republic and just as she did in the states, she brings Nader just about everywhere, including on most public transit. Be ready for some different customs, though! Christine has only been able to avoid the “pets ride under the bus with the luggage” policy on intercity buses by keeping him hidden as she boards.
• Will it be dangerous for your pet? Think other (potentially predatory) animals, water quality, infrastructure, health issues, and access to veterinary care. For example, while for the most part Nader has adjusted quite well and Christine and her husband have been able to navigate most surprises, they weren’t quite ready for the ticks, noting that the “vet told us that a flea collar would do the trick, but boy was she wrong. Wrong wrong wrong! There are ticks and fleas EVERYWHERE in this country! In addition to keeping him away from other animals, we’ve tried flea/tick baths, flea collars, tick powder, short haircuts, flea/tick spray, Frontline. Nothing seemed to do the trick! Finally, we did two doses of Frontline a week apart, and it seemed to eradicate the bugs.”
• What are your living arrangements? Will you be able to find housing with a pet? Again, this may not be something you can totally discern before leaving, but you’ll know some things. For example, Ruth knew if she brought her huskies to Kenya she would need air conditioning. These types of factors can shape the part of the city you live in and your budget for rent. Christine has found that in the Dominican Republic, landlords are not at all bothered by her having a dog, but shorter term accommodations such as hotels tend not to be pet friendly.
Additional Resources for Moving your Furry Friend Abroad:
- US State Department
- US Department of Agriculture
- New York Times on Traveling with your Pet
- ASPCA on Air Travel with your Pet
- American Veterinary Medical Association Travel FAQs
Stacey McKenna is a writer, anthropologist, equine advocate, rock-climber, tattoo collector, and aspiring yogi. A long-time vagabond, Stacey has lived all over the U.S. as well as in France, Austria, Morocco, and Canada. When not adventuring overseas, helping retiring racehorses find second careers, or tramping about with her husband and dog in the Western United States’ beautiful mountains and deserts, she writes about an array of issues related to travel, health, culture, human-animal relations, and social inequality. Though she has been living in Fort Collins, Colorado for over 7 years now,Stacey still considers herself a wanderer at heart. Follow her explorations via her blog or on Twitter @mckenna_stacey.