Taking Your Pet Back Home

Taking Your Pet Back Home

So you’ve been in Uganda a while now. Bought furniture, set up a home, taken in some pets, but now your time is coming to an end and you’re moving back home. Furniture and property is easy enough to hand off, but what about your creatures? You might not feel comfortable giving them away, they have become family, but you’re not sure how to proceed. Well, this article is for you. We will tell you how you can bring your beloved cat or dog back to your country, so it can remain a happy and healthy member of your family.

First things first, you’ll want to start preparing your cat or dog as soon as you find out you’re leaving. They will need to be neutered, micro-chipped, registered, given boosters for a myriad of vaccinations, and undergo a rabies booster. About a month after the rabies booster, you need to head back to the vet to draw blood for an analysis at a South African laboratory. Make sure your vet is familiar with the procedure for exporting pets (the Veterinary Surgery in Mbuya does these often). The vet will ship the blood to the laboratory and you will receive a confirmation number and an email letting you know when it’s arrived. If all goes well, a certificate should follow soon after. Make copies of this and put it in a special folder for all your paper work. You’ll need to reference this often in the coming months, so keeping it organized is a must.

Another important step in transporting your pet is finding a carrier. You’ll want to use an IATA approved carrier and it should be large enough for your animal to stand up and turn around. Make sure it will be stocked with a familiar item that smells like you (as to give comfort to your pet in a stressful environment), a soft blanket, and some puppy pads in case your animal must ‘go’ during the flight. Water and hydration will be important during the flight. Standard water dishes don’t hold a lot of liquid and spill quite easily. It is worth trying to find (or importing) the larger type of water bottles that are common in hamster and rodent cages. It is quite simple to teach a dog to drink from one of these, and it will keep spillage at bay. You will also want the dog to have some kibble, and some toys to chew on for boredom. Tranquilizing a dog is generally not recommended, as it can cause them more anxiety and a feeling of disorientation once they land.

A proper IATA carrier is not easy to find in Uganda, but start looking early. Hopefully you can find one off of another expat and buy it just like that. Some vets carry them, but not often in the larger sizes. Worst-case scenario is that you have to get one shipped in or make a deal with someone on their way to Uganda to bring one. Make sure that when you get it you write your contact information and any special instructions on the crate. If you’re headed to, say, Italy, make sure you write those instructions in Italian as well.

Now book that flight! If you are headed to Europe, then it tends to be a bit easier, but there are some things that will help you navigate this process. First is that you’ll have to speak to an agent and confirm the animal is on the flight (you can’t just book this flight on the Internet). If you fly KLM, you can take your animal as baggage (as opposed to other airways where you take them as cargo and the cost rises into the thousands). Out of everyone we spoke to who is in the process of taking his or her cat or dog home, KLM seems the easiest, most hassle-free option.

You will need export papers and a third-party certificate approximately three weeks before you fly out. You will also need a certificate two days before the flight from the vet that issues good health and proof of de-worming. All of these papers can be arranged through your vet, but it is important to note that you cannot obtain these unless you already have your rabies certificate from South Africa. So again, starting early is important.

At the airport you will have to check in at the desk with your dogs and/or cats. So arrive early (earlier than the usual 2 hour international flight rule) and head up to the departures check-in desk. If you are traveling by yourself or in a large, chaotic family, it is well worth it to get an assistant to help you with your luggage, especially with larger dog crates. You’ll want to present your paperwork. Make sure you have photocopies of everything. Make a lot of photocopies because of course you will need them at every juncture.

For those traveling to the UK, from Amsterdam it is easiest to take a ferry to get back home. You must book an advance with Stena, the ferry service. However they do allow dogs to walk on board and have kennels they can stay in during the trip. You will want to make sure you have all your paperwork, the de-worming, the rabies, the everything. For those who need a day of rest, there is a pet friendly hotel just near the Stena dock called Hotel Kuiperduin. For 75 Euros a night, you can relax with your animal in a pet friendly room. Also the town where the ferry departs from has lots of great walking trails for dogs, if you think you need a day of rejuvenation.

On the ferry you can visit or stay with your animal in the kennels. When the ferry docks you may be subject to further inspection but it is likely that here is where the paper trail can end. Now go take a nap because you’ve earned it.

For those headed onto Canada or the US, you might still want to make a stop over and spend the night in a pet-friendly hotel near the airport. Wotif.com is a great place to find pet-friendly accommodation in a number of countries, including Holland. For those flying to the US or Canada, you can continue to use KLM for your onward flight. However, Air Canada and Air France both have fairly reasonable pet flying options. If your creature is small enough to fit under the seat on Air Canada, you can actually take it with you on the overseas flight, which is a nice perk for pet owners.

In the US or Canada, your dog will be subject to inspection. They will of course need your proof of rabies vaccination and the certificate that proves good health and zero infectious diseases. If your animal is too young for vaccinations, it will be kept in quarantine until it is old enough to handle it. If somehow you are missing a vaccination (and made it this far!), you will be forced to vaccinate at your own expense and may face a fine.

The process of inspection can take a while, so if you have connecting flights or friends picking you up, you will want to make sure have a large enough window to wait. My own dog’s inspection in Canada took about 45 minutes (you will have to wait in line), and the examination of the paperwork will be thorough. Come prepared with all your information on hand so you can easily answer any questions. Be honest and direct, any vague answers will only prolong the process.

After all of that you should be home free. If you’re taking a dog, give it a walk and a large helping of food. If you are taking a cat, give it a nice meal and make sure it is confined to the house for about a week before you start letting it out. It needs time to understand where its new territory is or there’s a risk of it running off.

Now relax. Seriously, you’ve earned it. Taking a pet home from Uganda is expensive and time consuming. However, many people insist it is well worth the effort. And for those of us who view our pets as members of our family, it is non-negotiable. Uganda will miss you, but with a little bit of work, your animals don’t have to. Good luck and bon voyage!

About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at lizabeth@livinginkampala.com.