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Topic: Snowbirding and Flying Dogs  (Read 7952 times)

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Snowbirding and Flying Dogs
« on: April 12, 2019, 06:12:26 PM »
My wife and I decided to try spending three months of each year in the US... with our two dogs!

When we moved from the US to the UK in 2010 we flew our two dogs (that we had at the time - both now passed) and it was a stressful experience, so we were nervous about doing this twice in a year, potentially every year. Well, this post is meant as a reassurance to those who are looking at flying their dogs.

Originally we thought about using the QM2 to sail to the US and back again each time but we decided it was too expensive, the schedule too rigid and the idea of six days on the sea and five days driving to reach the US west coast would simply be too much for our dogs. Flying means trusting strangers but the ordeal is quickly over and done with.

This doesn't apply to 99% of people who are reading this, but if you take a dog (or cat) from the UK to the US then it is almost trivial to get them back to the UK.

In the UK you get a PETS scheme passport and rabies vaccination. I also made sure our vet recorded that our dogs were neutered. Not required for the passport but saves money a bit later on...

The other other piece of paperwork required was a letter from our vet saying they were OK to fly.

We booked with Virgin as they still allow direct bookings and don't require using a third party company with their markup fees. Flight was non-stop from London to Los Angeles.

Dropping off in London was a nice experience. The staff were very friendly, helpful and reassuring. They supply water and top up the bowls when the crates have been loaded onto the aircraft. To ensure this is possible I made some custom funnels that attached to the outside of the doors to get water into the large bowls. We didn't bother with food bowls - our dogs wouldn't eat anyway and so it's just extra hassle.

We bought pheromone collars (Adaptil) that we put on our dogs two weeks before traveling. In the crates they are not allowed to wear anything so we tool the Adaptil collars off and attached them to the sides of the crates. We also sprayed the crates with Adaptil. I'm not sure if that stuff works but we figured for the cost it can't do any harm so it was worth a try.

When we got on the plane we gave our seat numbers to the cabin crew greeter and asked them to confirm to us when our dogs were loaded, which they did about 10-15 minutes later. According to Virgin the section of cabin they are in is set to 72F and a dim light is turned on. The Captain has to do this and sign off on the dogs being in the hold. The cabin crew can then get confirmation of loading from the Captain and let you know (if you request it).

On landing in LA there is some messing around with paperwork - it has to be picked up from the cargo facility, taken to US Customs for signing and then returned to the cargo facility. Then an import fee of $90 is paid before the pets are released. I was worried about one of our dogs who is very nervous however when we got to the cargo faclity she was in her crate quietly watchng the forklifts go backwards and forwards like she was meditating!

Once out of their crates they were fine. No crate soiling, no issues at all.

We needed to register them in our "home" US county and for this proof of rabies vaccination is requried. There is also a big discount for neutered dogs. We simply emailed them copies of the relevant pages from the PETS passports and they accepted it no questions asked.

For the return it was almost as simple. Get our US vet to fill out an airline form saying they are fit to travel and get the tapeworm treatment (which is recorded in the PETS passport by the US vet). Nothing else needed!

We sent copies of the passports to Virgin to forward to Heathrow Animal Reception Centre for a pre-check. This was supposed to reduce the waiting time on arrival to one hour, but it didn't. The pre-check didn't cost us anything but I am not convinced it has much value when using a PETS passport.

We made sure to tell Virgin that the dogs were shipped out three months earlier and gave them a copy of the Virgin Air Waybill to pass on. This avoids having to pay VAT on arrival in the UK.

We dropped the dogs off at the LAX cargo facility. Again, remove collars (and attach Adaptil collars to crates), hand over documentation, sign a load of shipping forms, get on the plane, get confirmation from the cabin crew that they were loaded, etc.

What did stress us about dropping them off at LAX was the endless barking that they were doing when put into the crates. It made it seem like they were really stressed, but we just told oursleves they were behaving like stubbon little children and once they realized they were not getting their way they would stop.

At the Heathrow end it was a 3.5 hour wait. Dogs were again abolutely fine. No issues at all.

The bottom line is that flying dogs and trusting strangers is hard and stressful but we have now done it three times and every time our dogs have been absolutely fine at the other end!

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Re: Snowbirding and Flying Dogs
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2019, 07:32:27 PM »
So glad to hear that it's working out for you and your pups!   :)

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