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Buying a Van, Flying a Dog (or, how I survived two weeks of European bureaucracy), part 2

We Made It!

Firstly, yes, we arrived safe and sound, Loki a week or so after me. Gradually we’re settling into something like a routine, as much as you can when you’re on the road. In the last post, I wrote about my experience of buying a van as a non-EU citizen. The other big event, of course, has been flying Loki here, and this is probably one that I’ve had the most questions about. If you want to know about the actual administrative process of flying a dog out of Australia, read here.

The First Days

Loki flew from Melbourne to Dubai, stayed there for a while – long enough to get out of the crate, “go for a walk”, get food and water and go to the toilet – then on to Frankfurt. I was reassured that the facilities in Dubai are great and that the operators of the kennel genuinely love dogs, however I’ll never really know what his experience was like – not of the plane or his stop. How can I? All I have to judge on is what he was like when I was reunited with him. Between Melbourne and Frankfurt he had two vet checks – I assume both were pretty strict and thorough, two flights, and a night on his own. What I saw at the airport cargo pickup area was a dog who was confused and tired. When I called his name, he sort of took a moment or two to realise he’d heard me. I called him again and he exploded with joy. I truly believe he never thought he would see me again. I cried and cried into his fur and he licked my face, overwhelmed by it all.

Yes. I was crying a lot.

I took him back to the van and climbed in beside him, both of us curling up in the back and just being still together for a while. In that moment, all I could do was apologise to him for what I’d put him through – after all, he had no say in being flown somewhere, in being kenneled somewhere. Everything that had happened since he left Melbourne was strange and scary and he was alone, and it was my decision to put him through it all. Seeing him there, stressed, tired and overwhelmed, knowing he’d had to pee in his crate at some point, knowing that he thought I was gone forever, just made me feel incredibly guilty. Even though he was there in one piece, safe, unhurt, fine as far as I could tell, I had a huge weight of guilt.

We left the airport and went for a walk in a forest nearby. He sniffed all the smells, found new sticks, and seemed happy to be out and about. That night we curled up together in the van, some part of him touching me all night.

Everything is better with forest walks

The thing I noticed about those first days was his level of stress every time I left the van. To get out to go to the toilet, to go inside a house or a shop, to walk to the next van over and ask them a question. I would come back to a dog panting and worrying that I was gone. Of course I don’t blame him – the van was still so new, I hadn’t had it long enough to make it smell like me. The sheets didn’t smell like me, the couch/bed didn’t smell like me… and MY levels of stress were incredibly high too with all the issues I’d had with the van to that point and continuing.

Settling In

People on the internet had said that their dog was “off” for a few days, and I would totally agree. I think it took him about 5-6 days to calm down, to start to seem happy in the van, to be relaxed when I left and came back again. Of course, in those 5-6 days we slept in the van, travelled in there, hung out in there. I treated him like a puppy and took little mini-trips away from the van and back so he became ok with me coming and going again. Of course I fed him in the van, too, and we began to walk and meet our new agility friends. We slowed down. My stress levels dropped. We did some agility and he learnt that the agility toys live in the van, too! Eventually we picked up Isi and began to travel around a bit, and he became happy to actually sleep on the couch, rather than in the very back (something he never did at home because he doesn’t like being able to see out the front windows).

Super relaxed and cute friend

We’ve begun developing routines – a morning walk for the toilet, back to the van for breakfast while I pack up the bed and make it a couch again… driving or exploring or relaxing during the day with more walks (usually), then night in the van for dinner, a last toilet break, then cuddles. Loki loves routines, and while we’re still working out the perfect place for everything in the van (eg. that damn water bowl) and the perfect time for everything, he is beginning to know what to expect, and I think that’s really helpful for him.

A lovely forest-y place to spend a night…!


A little sidenote. While I had no trouble with Loki’s paperwork coming in to Frankfurt, I did nearly run into issues when trying to board the ferry to England. While Marina over at Pam The Van wrote a great post on taking your dog to the UK by ferry, our experiences were a little different. I was informed by the dog transport company that Loki’s rabies certificate from Australia would be enough to get him to the UK. I also carried with me a printed-out certificate from a scientific lab that ran Loki’s titer-test for the rabies vaccine, which stated his antibody levels were appropriate for export to the UK. It specifically said “For export to the UK”. Having had all the troubles I had with the van, I was taking no chances and went to a German vet to get Loki a pet passport too – not thinking he’d really need one with the rabies certificate, but knowing he needed a record of his tape-worm treatment to get across the border.

However. The German vet told us that she couldn’t enter the rabies information in his passport as they didn’t personally administer the vaccination, and therefore couldn’t stick the sticker in the book. I assumed they knew what they were talking about and anyway, my certificate was enough to get us through. We went on our way.

At the border, I was told that my certificate was infact, not enough, and that the German vet should have put the information in the passport, and that we couldn’t get through with what we had because even the piece of paper saying “approved for export to the UK” that was apparently enough to get us BACK to Australia (strictest quarantine in the world remember) was NOT enough to get us to the UK, that we needed some official certificate… which is when the border security guy pulled out some paperwork from Canada that looked a lot like something I’d seen in Loki’s pile of papers from the Australian vet…. Luckily I’d kept all of these papers, as that was exactly what we needed.

So, further to my admin post about taking a dog out of/to Australia…

  • Get the pet passport. Get the vet to write in ALL the information. Triple check it – they seem quite strict at the border. Make sure the vet puts in the date the microchip was inserted and read, not just read (that nearly caused us trouble, too).
  • Get the tapeworm treatment 1-5 days before you travel to the UK. Make sure it’s recorded in the book.

I’m seriously hoping that the titer test we got won’t cause us trouble coming back to Australia, since it’s not a “government official” facility, though the export vet was the one who sent it off so I’d assume he knew what he was doing… but that’s something to worry about later. For now, time for cuddling, walking, and of course…

… stick swim.

A thirty-something dog trainer, outdoor lover, agility enthusiast and would-be writer from Australia – taking her dog and travelling around Europe.

One Comment

  • Shandos

    September 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Ouch! That’s no good to hear about your troubles with paperwork. We nearly had some troubles heading into the UK too. We had visited a vet in Paris, to get the worming done and a dog passport. He wrote in Schnitzel’s rabies vaccination (done before leaving Australia), but of course he wrote in the date he “read” the microchip, so the date of the vaccine was before it, and that was an issue. We ended up showing Schnitzel’s original rabies vaccine certificate and his desexing certificate, showing he had had the microchip for years. And that ended up being enough. However, no-one else has ever cared about paperwork for Schnitzel – not when flying from Barcelona to Paris, or taking the ferry to the Netherlands, or other borders.