03 October, 2010

The Irish Cat Fiasco

Bringing a pet into Ireland from outside the UK is a balancing act between the insane and the impossible.  It isn't for the faint of heart, and requires walking a tightrope of rules, regulations, and general bullshit unlike anything you've experienced before (unless you've previously worked with the Army).

Last Thursday I sent both of my cats ahead a day on the afternoon Aer Lingus flight that arrived at Dublin on Friday morning.  I arrived in a rental car at John F. Kennedy's Aer Lingus cargo terminal to hand them over to an agent of Pet Express, a pet travel specialist based in California.

Now, I went through this process last year with Niamh, before I acquired Colonel, and one must have all of one's ducks lined up in perfect order and quacking in perfect synchrony from start to finish in order to complete the process with the least amount of pain possible.  I'm retired Air Force, so I know all about lining up ducks, and I usually do it fairly well.

My oldest cat, Niamh, has a Dutch pet passport, has had her rabies shot, her titre test, and more shots than most children.  My kitten, Colonel, was acquired last October in Ireland and has a UK pet passport, his rabies shot, and his titre test as well as the same shots and treatments as Niamh.  What he didn't have, however, was the required six months between the titre test and the date of importation into Ireland.  He was three weeks shy.

Ireland has an extensive list of rules for bringing in a pet, unless you're coming from the UK, in which case you can get on the bloody boat with your five dogs, eight cats and a ferret and they don't even look at you sideways as you drive your little ark off the boat in Dun Laoghaire.  But bring a small cat in from the US and it's vets drawn at nine o'clock.

The requirements for importing a pet go like this, and must be done in this exact order or it's no good and you have to start all over:
1. microchip implanted
2. rabies vaccination
3. three weeks after the rabies vaccination, conduct a rabies titre test (at an approved national laboratory)
4. wait for the titre test to come back and then annotate that it is positive within a certain range.  The titre is proof that the pet is immune to rabies, and can not become infected with it.
5. Have a USDA vet-approved vet sign a health certificate within 30 days of travel.
6. Tick and tapeworm treatment within 24-48 hours of landing in Dublin.

But there is one teeny, tiny step that absolutely can not be overlooked if you wish to be united with your pet on the other side...after a positive and acceptable titre is annotated, you must wait six months before the pet can enter the UK or Ireland without being subject to quarantine.  I thought I had this system down until I faxed my cats' pet passport and other paperwork to Pet Express and discovered that Colonel was going to be three weeks shy of the quarantine period and would need to spend those three weeks in quarantine at Lissenhall veterinary surgery in Swords, Dublin.

Well, it's not the end of the world, right?  Six months in quarantine will run you about 2,000 euros, plus vet fees and a whole new round of the same vaccinations your pet just had.  Three weeks in quarantine is a whole lot cheaper, and Colonel is worth it, so it's all good.

So on Thursday afternoon I met the Pet Express agent at JFK's Aer Lingus cargo terminal and handed over both cats, both of their pet passports, their health certificates, Colonel's Irish vaccination record, and two airline-approved travel carriers.  The lady, who was very nice, put both cats in her car and I signed all the necessary paperwork before we said goodbye and drove to our hotel for the evening.  Sorted.

Or not.

On Saturday morning I arrived in Dublin and endured the great Irish Rental Car Fiasco (see previous blog entry), after which I made my way to Lissenhall to pay the fees and collect Niamh, who is eligible to bypass quarantine.  I walked in, as I did last year, and sat in the chilly little reception room to wait for the vet, who, in keeping with Irish cultural norms, was fashionably late arriving.  Well, it was a Saturday.

I read all the posters, checked out the scale in the corner (it was there last year, too), counted the spiders on the ceiling, and tried to stay awake.  Eventually I was called into the anteroom where I picked Niamh up last year.  Niamh was conspicuously absent.  I looked at the vet.  He looked at me.

"Have you got Colonel's pet passport?" he asked.

I blinked.

"Shouldn't you have that?" I said.

"Mmm." he murmured.

"Mmm" is never good in Ireland, nor in England.  It's like the Turkish tongue click, which is usually followed by "Inshallah" (god willing) and a trip to the shop for cigarettes with which to bribe the officials.  In Ireland, however, it's a bit more complicated and a lot less straightforward.  I explained that I'd handed Colonel's pet passport to Pet Express and, if it had been lost along the way, then they were going to be responsible.  He suggested I call Pet Express and Aer Lingus to track it down.  Now, the whole reason the cats had to go ahead of us a day is because Aer Lingus cargo people do not work on weekends, nor does the one and only authorised pet courier who takes the cats from the plane and delivers them to Lissenhall.  Nor does Pet Express.  In fact, in what I can only determine is a concerted effort to dissuade people from bringing their pets here, Ireland has mandated only one authorised agent (Pet Express), only one authorised airline (Aer Lingus), and only four authorised US-Dublin routes by which a pet can enter Ireland, and only on business days.  And before you ask, yes, it does cost a small fortune.

I decided to leave Niamh at Lissenhall, too, and board her while I waited for Monday to start making phone calls.  Maybe Einstein could function on two hours of sleep, but I couldn't.  I left Lissenhall with my son, my luggage, my rental car, the single Valium I have left, and no cats.

On Monday I started the rounds of email and phone calls.  The pet passport had still not turned up, Pet Express said they handed it to Aer Lingus, Aer Lingus said they hadn't seen it, and Lissenhall said they would "put the skids on" to Aer Lingus to see if they could look a bit harder for it.  By Wednesday the situation hadn't changed, but I heard from Lissenhall that Pet Express was having the USDA send a certificate that would verify Colonel's rabies titre and allow him to be released on schedule.  Lissenhall also said that Pet Express has offered to pay for it and a new pet passport.

I'm going to leave Niamh in boarding so she can be close to Colonel, whom she abhors.  I'm going to consider it penance.

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