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Everything You Need to Know About Shipping Your Pet

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Shipping a pet is a stressful experience for most pet owners. There are many details regarding the shipment of a dog or cat that must be attended to -- especially when overseas pet shipment is concerned.

Congratulations! Your company has made you manager of the Hong Kong office. Or, perhaps you and your spouse have decided that you'd prefer to raise your family in Portland, Ore. rather than Portland, Maine. You've put your house on the market, found a new home in your destination city, arranged for the kids' schooling, and even started to pack. There's just one thing: what about your Lab, or your two cats, or your African grey parrot? They're a part of your family, too, and you wouldn't think of leaving them behind.

Where do you begin?

These are some typical pet owners' questions:

  • What are the conditions in aircraft cargo holds?
  • What about the risk of theft or injury? Will my pet be handled safely and humanely en route?
  • What kind of shipping container is best?
  • What happens if a flight is delayed or diverted?

And if you're shipping a pet overseas, the situation is even more complicated:

  • What are the health requirements of foreign countries for importing animals?
  • Will my pet have to be quarantined overseas? What about when we return?
  • What kind of documentation is required?

So, where do you turn for information?

To get a handle on the challenges of pet shipping, your first stop should be the Web site of the International Air Transport Association -- IATA -- the trade association of the international airline industry. If you're shipping a dog or cat, you will find valuable information on IATA's Traveler's Pet Corner, including links to information on shipping pets internationally.

Can't I just pay someone to handle all of this?

Making all of the arrangements for shipping your pet is a complicated affair that you need to get right to avoid worry and expense for yourself and discomfort for your pet.

Even if you're shipping your pet domestically, there's a great deal to think about: choice of airline, proper documentation, health certificate, a shipping container that meets airline specifications, feeding arrangements, etc. You'll also have to check with your airline to find out its policies and requirements for shipping pets and the degree of care your pet will receive while en route.

You can handle all of these arrangements yourself and, for domestic shipping, most people do so with no problem. However, international shipping is another matter.

International shipping: It's best to use a professional

Every country has its own set of customs regulations, procedures, and health and documentation requirements. These can be quite complicated and must be followed precisely.

Gail Young, public relations committee chairman of the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), said: "A domestic move can be easily arranged for. The international moves are more complicated because the regulations vary from country to country. Using a pet shipper alleviates some of the stress.''

IPATA member shippers -- numbering more than 200 in 30 countries -- must demonstrate appropriate experience, must be properly licensed in their countries, and must agree to adhere to IATA's Live Animal Regulations, the international standard for the care of animals in shipment. According to Young, member companies make use of airlines with facilities and handling procedures that have been verified to meet standards of quality and safety.

IPATA maintains a searchable list of pet shippers worldwide with a detailed listing of their specific services. The list can be searched alphabetically by name, or by airport location.

It's important to keep in mind that IPATA is a trade organization, not a shipper. Each IPATA member is an individual company with its own practices, procedures, services, and rates. Compare the costs and services of several different companies before making your choice.

Various levels of service are available from different shippers, ranging from basic airport-to-airport service to comprehensive door-to-door service. The cost of shipping a pet varies widely, depending on the degree of service sought and the destination. Naturally, international shipping is more expensive than domestic.

Plan ahead and do your homework

A final word: In planning for your pet's shipment, allow for plenty of lead-time -- especially if you're shipping your pet abroad -- so that all the preparations are in place well before your departure. That way, you and your pet can take the big move in stride.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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