Finally we got our cat back to the UK after about 5 years and 3 countries away. And what a rip off!
Not only does the UK make a fuss about things that other countries take within their stride, but it conspires with the airlines to make the transport unnecessarily expensive.
Only Britain could make regulations for cats dogs and ferrets! Do other countries even have ferrets? And why would you want to travel with a pet ferret? No Yorkshire jokes please.
The UK requires a microchip and a proper passport with details of injections -- fair enough. The rabies injection has to be checked by a special blood testing lab a month later -- fair enough. Then most countries are satisfied to wait three months and let the animal in. But not Britain, which insists on a further 3 months. So in fact you have to wait out the six months "quarantine period" in the country where you are living before you can bring your pet in. Who knows six months in advance when they are going to move? The end result is you have to do top up injections for rabies once a year, just in case. Most vets think our cat has had enough chemicals now to last a life time. However, we didn't plan six months ahead and had to start again. By the time we came to leave Greece for the UK, only three of the six months had passed, so we took the cat to my sister in Slovenia for a "holiday" until the deadline was past.
Then there are special rules on tick and tapeworm treatment. Our cat has been living inside a flat and has had no opportunity to go in long grass. Similarly it has not had any chance to catch mice and birds. Even if she had, owners normally give these treatments themselves. Tick treatment consists of spreading some fluid on the back of the neck, and worming is just a pill the cat has to take.
So the justification for a certificate to say the cat has had treatment by a vet not more than 48 hours and not less than 24 hours before departure is just a regulation for regulation's sake. What happens if you travel on Sunday like we did? You have to have a friendly relationship with your vet. I was tempted to turn up without the certificate, and give the treatment there and then when we arrived. At least they have changed the regulation that required you to go to a specially authorised vet in the country, which could only be a case of extra income for somebody's friend. No authorised vets in Slovenia of course!
So just assembling all the documentation for the cat is quite a lot of work.
No animals are allowed to arrive in the UK in the cabin of the airplane. They can arrive by car, boat or train, where the risk of infection must be the same, but not in the cabin of an airplane. What's more, only some airlines are "authorised". There are no authorised airlines for Slovenia. I investigated the cost of coming by unauthorised airline but it was going to require a month's notice, an import license and cost £500, even with all the medical documentation in place. So we decided to travel via Vienna and hope for the best.
Then there is the special box. We have a normal small cat box that we have used to bring the cat from Lithuania to Greece via Poland, and from Greece to Slovenia via Austria without any complaint or problems. The cat travelled on a spare seat and was quite happy. The airlines obviously can't accept a lot of animals occupying spare seats without paying, so they only accept one pet per flight.
But on this occasion Austrian Airlines required a big box "so the cat could turn round and not touch the roof". So we bought a box in which the cat could probably turn a somersault. It's beside the point that the cat is probably in the dark in the cargo section of the plane, on its own and scared. It isn't going to be doing a lot of turning round. Cats normally hide in quite small places (under sofas, behind cupboards, and in drawers, in the case of our cat). Maybe a big box is justified on long haul flights, but surely the cat just sleeps?
So we bought a bix box. Then we noticed that the minimum size for Austrian Airlines was more than the maximum size for use in the cabin with Adria Airways! So we had to take both boxes. Imagine the confusion everytime there was a check: this box is empty, and this box has a cat in it, but which is which? Even I got confused.
Check in at Ljubljana was not easy. First the computer was slow, then it wouldn't let me check the big box (without the cat, I hope you are still following this) so I could get it off the plane in Vienna. Eventually we compromised by having it carried "deliver at the plane". At security, they insisted I had to take the cat out to go through the scanner with me. Luckily she was well behaved: we didn't have to play hunt the cat and I didn't get clawed to death. They didn't scan my computer separately like everyone else, but I did have to be checked for shoe bombs. That was reassuring but it would have been even better if the X ray machine had picked up the two syringes full of sedatives, provided by the vet (but not needed in the end).
So then I staggered across the tarmac. Ljubljana airport is too small to need buses and it doesn't have those upper level access tunnels direct to the plane, you just walk out, in a crocodile to your plane. Luckily it wasn't snowing or icy, so I could manage: one box with cat, one box without cat, one holdall, full of stuff for cat, one computer, and handbag plus thick overcoat. I was the last on, so I banged everyone down the aisle with my luggage, as I found we had the two last seats on the plane, next to the toilet, row no 13.
Nevertheless Nibs and I settled down nicely and had an uneventful flight. The airhostess chatted to her but she took all the interest for granted and went to sleep.
We landed in Vienna with 3 hours to kill, before I could to take her to check in the cargo terminal. On her trip from Lithuania to Greece, our friends found a quiet place in Warsaw airport and let her out to stretch her legs. But the only place I could think of in Vienna airport was the chapel, not that I have ever visited it. So we parked ourselves in the big restaurant by the window and we both dozed.
I had some lunch, trusting my pile of belongings to a Brit who sat at the table as it had the only power point for his computer. Nibs was banned from food, and refused all water.
Then I set off to find the cargo terminal where she had to be left. When I "imported" the cat through customs, into Austria, there was no one there, so I didn't have to worry should I have "declared" a cat. This has been our experience everywhere, when after all the preparations, there is usually nobody available to inspect the documents. You don't seriously expect to declare a cat, if its papers are in order!
I managed to find the only Austrian taxi driver who did not know what a cargo terminal was or where it was. When he had sorted that out, we drove miles round to get to somewhere unmissable (but he did) and then back. I trailed everything up to the second floor, only to find the offices had just moved to new premises that weekend. Luckily some of the men loading trucks took pity on me and moved us all to the right place in their van. Once there, there was no problem sorting everything out, just the shock of the bill for 240 Euros. I guess this was my fault for not checking. But the usual excess baggage charge for cats in cabins, around 20 Euros for a 4 kg cat in a box, had lulled me into a false feeling that cat transport was not more expensive than a normal passenger fare.
There were some grumbles about the box, not its size, but the locks on the door, which were not the approved sort, and it's true could be easily knocked. The Airline guy claimed that a cat could open the door from the inside. Cats are pretty clever and determined, but I doubt myself whether a cat would bother to examine how the door opened from the outside, before getting in, where the door locks can't be seen. So a cat would have to first get its paws bent through the mesh of the door and then operate remotely on the locks. He showed me the approved type which had springloaded locks with a padlock. No doubt they are necessary if you are taking monkeys (whose paws might just be dextrous enough to be able to open the locks, I guess) or boa constrictors, where the consequences of letting the animal out might be more serious. We compromised by taping up the locks, so that was that.
I got some instructions on how to pick her up at Heathrow and signed a form to say I would not hold them responsible for sickness or death. Should I have insured her? I'm sure travel insurance doesn't cover you for loss of pet.
I left Nibs squeaking to herself in her box with another 3 hour wait for the flight. Then I tried to find my way back to the airport on foot. As is obvious when you think about it, airports aren't designed for people on foot. I could see the airport traffic control tower and the building but getting there was quite hard. In the end I went in a car park deciding there must be a route for passengers after they had left their cars.
Now reduced to my normal luggage plus one empty cat box, I checked the second box in, hoping that Austrian Airlines would manage to make it meet up with the suitcase checked in already in Ljubljana. My experience with AA in the last few trips has been that they always leave your luggage behind in the short changeover times they have now scheduled between all their connecting flights. I took the empty box to the "quick check in", which was slowed down by the confusion caused about what animal was in the box. Finally they were satisfied it was empty.
Only another 3 hours to go! I sat in the restaurant and pondered the chances of bumping into my friend again. Three weeks ago we had both been on the afternoon flight from London without knowing it, and had to wait to travel to Pristina. We had had a nice lunch catching up on the gossip and news (I only met her once before, on my first week working in Pristina) but we seemed like old friends. I knew she was going to Pristina, probably on Sunday like before, but thought it was too much of a coincidence to expect again. But surprisingly enough, I looked up from my book, and there she was! So the last hours passed very quickly, till we set off in opposite directions.
The flight was uneventful, my luggage arrived normally and daughter Sophie met me, taken aback by the sight of the usual cat box, until she realised it was empty. I had hired a car, and we debated whether to get the car first and go for the cat or vice versa. We thought it would be hard to sort out cat (it involved going to the Animal Reception Centre and to Swissport to deal with the cargo paperwork. So Sophie went off in a taxi to start the cat paperwork and I went for the car. Eventually we both got back to the ARC, Sophie having paid £88 in charges for importing the cat (or something).
The Animal Reception Centre was a very strange place. You imagine it rather like a lab, but trucks drove up to it and the doors in which they entered made it seem like a firestation or a car wash. The human reception centre was like a cottage living room tacked on to the front. Large notices said "keep your animals off the sofas"; "it takes up to an hour and a half to check animals from Europe and 4 hours from everywhere else so please be patient"; and more ominously, the usual notice about not tolerating abusive or threatening behaviour. There were coffee and snack machines. By now it was 11 pm and the thought of more hours waiting was beginning to make me understand where the threatening behaviour was likely to come from.
However, in a couple of minutes, Nibs appeared in her box and was handed over. We got a lecture about not using the box again without punching more holes in the back for ventilation. What does it mean when these boxes come with documentation saying that they are IATA approved?
In the car, we discussed how carefully they had looked at the documents. Sophie said they had only bothered with the passport, which did not say where the blood test had been done, only the date, which had been entered by the Slovenian vet to avoid issues with reading the Greek certificate.
So a lot of fuss, and unnecessary cargo travel, and one asks what was it all for.
Just at the moment bird flu must be a bigger risk for cats than rabies, but are they checking for that? Not yet, which is why we brought our cat in now, before there are more regulations invented.
And here she is, on one of her earlier "holidays" at a Lithuanian friend's house, while we moved to Greece and found somewhere to live.