I have been putting this one off. Even though I've gotten messages about it, and it's clearly something I know people want to read more about, I have still been subconsciously shying away from posting this one. I think it's because there is a tinge of guilt in how we went about it. So I'm going to put it out there: Yes, we signed our puppies up as emotional support animals, and yes, we could have emotionally flown without them. But to anyone who might say we are taking advantage of a system, or acting immorally, here are my internal workarounds:
- We are not abusing the certification: I'm not using it to get them into restaurants, or shopping centers, or even so we can bring them on every trip we take, back and forth back and forth. We had to find a way to bring our dogs to the place we are living. Simple as that. We needed to get them here and we will need to get them back. They aren't vacationing with us and coming everywhere with us.
- Glady would not survive 2 minutes in a crate under a plane, and the only other option was to drive 4 days when it's not smart to bring an American owned car to Mexico. Believe me - I did my research. This was one of the only options for us to get them here, so we did what was available.
- We rescued these puppies. We saved them from living on the streets on a poverty stricken island with only each other to hold onto. If anyone has a problem with how we chose to continue taking care of them, please be respectful and I'll be open to discussing further.
- Lastly, I was certifiably crazy after an entire summer of planning to move to Puerto Rico and then having the entire island wiped out a week before we were supposed to leave. So if I didn't need a support animal when I took the quiz, I sure as shit needed it by the time we left for our "back up island."
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let's dive into how we got these two knuckleheads on an international flight, across the border, and back to their island roots.
***Disclaimer: This post is specific to Mexico, but a lot of the numbers and companies would be helpful for traveling to any country - the specific requirements will vary. If you don't have to worry about the border entry of the process, you can skip to #5 for how we got them on the plane.
Alright, now really, here we go:
1. I became Sherlock f*%^ing Holmes and found out what Mexico required for pet entry.
This was honestly one of the hardest parts. Every country is different, and Mexico is even relatively easy. Regardless of the destination, this is where I would start. Places like Australia will quarantine your dog for like, 6 months. Places like Mexico don't require a quarantine at all. Don't even start the process of trying to get them on a plane until you know you can get them across the border when you get there.
I only have experience with Mexico, and while it was relatively straight forward, finding out exactly what was required was as clear as mud. Some sites said they had to have distemper, some didn't. Some sites said they had to have rabies within 6 months and some said a year. Some said they had to have a specific brand of flea and tick treatment, some didn't mention that part at all. Going into it I didn't know what qualified as ectoparasite treatment and what qualified as endoparasite treatment.
I'm going to save you the trouble. Don't call around to vets - some will quote you triple what you should pay and make you buy brands you don't need to buy. Don't try to research online. Bring Fido was helpful, but it didn't give me everything I needed, or the peace of mind that when we got to the border I had every single duck in a row. After trying multiple avenues, I bucked up and called the USDA agency directly. Denver doesn't have an office you can go into, so I called it's sister office in Sacramento. I talked to a representative and asked him no less than 3 times exactly what I needed. Then before I sent everything, I called again just to be sure and got the same answer plus one other piece of advice that was critical to the approval.
In a nutshell: Call the USDA office at 916-854-3960 and ask them precisely what is required for the country of entry. Then call again the next day and talk to someone else - just to be sure.
2. Take what you learned from the phone call and start checking it off the list.
It will take longer than expected. I would almost guarantee it. It's not hard, but it is time consuming. In our case, we needed proof of all required vaccinations on a qualified veterinarians letter head. This document needed to have the name, address, and phone number of the owner, along with the name and address of the destination. It also needed the breed, sex, name, and age of each pet. It had to verify they were vaccinated against rabies and indicate the expiration of the vaccination along with the name of the rabies identification, manufacturer, and date administered. I was able to give them the receipt from the vet who issued the shots and it had all of this information THANK GOD. I'm sure you can request it from your vet as well. We got their shots super cheap at Petco, so the receipt worked just fine.
They had to have a health examination by the qualified vet.
They also had to be treated against ectoparasites (fleas and tics) and endoparasites (heart worm) within the last 6 months. (Greedy vets will tell you it has to be Frontline - it absolutely does not.)
Also, all of this had to be in English and in Spanish and signed in BLUE INK by the vet.
See, simple but not easy.
In a nutshell: We had all their shots completed, and provided the receipt to the vet. I recommend Fox Hollow Animal Shelter if you are in the Denver area. They were amazing, they had experience in pet travel verification, and they didn't charge me an arm and a leg. They had letterheads for Mexico ready to go, and made this part as easy as it could have been.
3. Have the same veterinarian fill out APHIS form 7001.
The vet needs to fill this form out as specified. Pretty self explanatory.
Important: the letter head did not have to say it, but they will have to verify the animal has been treated for Bordatella on this form. Ours showed the type of animal, certificate number, total number of animals, name, address, and telephone number of the owner, name, address, and telephone number of the destination, name and microchip number, breed, age, sex, color, age, rabies vaccination date given and expiration, rabies product type and brand.
You may have noticed an item on the list that wasn't required on the letterhead, but was required on Form 7001: the microchip number. It must be 15 digits for international qualifications. I had the vet check to make sure it registered before I left, which I recommend.
Also, on this form make sure the vet fills out section 9 in Spanish and English. This was what I found out on my second call to the USDA. The vet left it blank because the last time she filled out a form for pets to travel to Mexico the USDA said she should leave that blank. Which is exactly why I suggest calling them directly. Shit changes all the time over there.
Then the vet can check off the verification boxes, sign and date it etc.
In a nutshell: Have a qualified and experienced vet fill out Form 7001. Once again, I recommend Fox Hollow Animal Hospital. They got me right in the next day when I called and said we actually did need section 9 filled out and fixed it on the spot. Highly recommend. Plus it's just a cute little place that has good vibes and is in a pretty location.
4. Send the form 7001 to the USDA for approval.
Okay but not just the form. Also send a check for $35 and a signed rabies vaccination certificate. I downloaded the PDF from here, filled it out, and took it to the vet who had originally vaccinated the puppies. You will also need to include a pre paid shipping label for them to use when sending the information back after they have stamped approval.
I had him sign it in blue ink - because if I went through all this trouble, and the dude at customs told me no, because the vet I tracked down months after the puppies shots signed the papers in the wrong colored ink, I would have 100% lost my shit. And nobody wants that to happen.
In the spirit of not unnecessarily losing my shit, I also sent photocopies of every single document I could get my hands on. Just in case. But it's worth noting that the actual forms and vet docs have to be the originals. Their rules, not mine.
I overnighted the package for like $35 at FedEx and then bought a two day delivery label for the return. We were in a time crunch since we flew out on the 10th and it was, like, the 9th. Just kidding, more like the 3rd or something. But still. No room for error. Which is why I also called them after I sent it and gave them specific directions to CALL ME if anything was filled out wrong - not to send it back with a note or something dumb. I was polite though - always polite.
I received the package back that same week with a stamp of approval. I think it took a total of 4 business days from the day I sent it out to the day I opened it back up and did a little happy dance in our kitchen.
In a nutshell: Send the 7001 Form, the Rabies Certificate, and a $35 check to:
USDA-APHIS-National Import Export Services
10365 Old Placerville Road, Ste. 210
Sacramento, CA 95827-2518.
***Make sure to include a return shipping label.
5. Aquire approval to bring the pups on the plane.
It's worth noting that all of these suggestions are for flying. If you are driving across the border you do not need the USDA to approve the 7001 form. But if you are flying then all the previous information is necessary.
Once you have gotten all the shots and medicine, filled out the forms, had the forms approved, and put them all in a nice little folder, you can move onto the final step - getting them on the plane.
Honestly, we did this one first because we thought we were going to Puerto Rico but we all know what happened there.
This part is tricky. Do you need the ID card? Or just a letter from your doctor? Or both? Or just the ID card? Once again, go straight to the source. We were flying United so I called them and asked them. Here is where I sing their praises.
United has a desk that handles all pet travel and keeps your approval on record for a full year. You send the letter from your doctor to firstname.lastname@example.org and they send you an email back approving you for the next year of travel. This came in handy when we had to switch flights from San Juan to Cancun. All you have to do is email the flight number and owner and pet information and you receive a verification in 2 business days. They also give you a number to call if the airline gives you any trouble when you are checking in.
With this information, we now knew all we had to do was get the letter from the health practitioner. We paid $99 here to answer a few questions and receive the letter in PDF format. Great thing is, if they don't feel like they can write you a letter for some reason, the $99 is fully refundable. We got the approval within 2 business days, forwarded that to United with our flight number, and were good to go. No additional tickets had to be purchased, the dogs just sit on your lap or at your feet. Luckily for us, our flight was not fully booked, so the boarding desk was able to switch our seats to a row with an open middle seat - MAJOR SCORE.
Check in was a breeze, no one had an issue with two puppies being on the plane, and the puppies themselves slept almost the entire time. When they weren't asleep they just hung out in the middle seat like tired Rockstars.
In a nutshell: Fly United. Email them your letter from the health practitioner stating you need an emotional support animal. Get verification. Fly to Mexico.
So that's pretty much it! Walk in the park right? Hardly. But it was worth it. I'm sitting in a hammock in Cozumel while the puppies are laying under me relaxing -wouldn't have it any other way.
Anyways, I hope this was helpful! What are your thoughts? Have you travelled with your pet before, and did it go smoothly? I have heard some nightmare stories...fingers crossed that it always goes as painlessly as the first time for us...