Sunday, March 31, 2013

Flying Dogs to Italy

Flying Dogs To Italy : Harley and Boomer playing ball at La Tabaccaia outside Castiglion Fiorentino, Tuscany, Italy

Have Dogs and Traveling to Italy?

It wasn't the easiest thing I ever did, but traveling to Italy with my two Labs turned out to be the perfect way to spend my extended holiday stay.

But getting there *and back* safe and happy required super-fancy footwork by my entire pack of four.

So what's involved if you want to travel with your pet from Texas to Italy? 

Best grab a glass of wine and a chair ... this is not a quick question to answer!

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley in Montepulciano, Italy (Thanksgiving 2012)
Meet Boomer and Harley

Boomer (my chocolate Lab above) and Harley (my yellow) are both seven year old Texas-born Labs. They are literally the best doggies a human could have! So when it came time for my extended stay in Italy, my partner and I knew we wanted needed them with us.

There were many weeks of preparation and many questions to address; Could our dogs fly on a plane at all? Would they have to be quarantined in Italy or the USA? Would they even have fun in Italy? What travel situations were we comfortable with ... or more importantly not comfortable with? There were many, many more questions ... if you'd like my guide of questions you should answer before traveling, email me.

Saddle Up

Once we made the decision for us all to go, we had to obtain the necessary paperwork for entrance to Italy. It seemed easy at first, but the deeper we dug the more confusing things became. Flying Dogs To Italy : Trips to your US- and Italian-based Vet will be required for international pet travelWebsites were a great start, but they often referred you to other sources which were vague and incomplete. There was no credible, single-source to give us the requirements or answer our questions.

After multiple phone interviews with multiple airlines and our trusted Dallas Vet who researched the medical side of things for a couple of weeks, we determined the final requirements to get our dogs into Italy:

1. No travel during extreme temperatures (sorry, summer and winter). Per the airline, this meant NO dogs traveling in the baggage hold between May 15 and September 15 (their pet embargo) OR any travel days when temps were below 10°F or above 85°F. A big hurdle which meant travel only during the shoulder and off-season months.

2. An internationally-friendly microchip. Not all microchips are internationally friendly, so our Vet had to re-chip the boys with a 15-digit ISO compliant chip.

3. A valid rabies certificate that did not expire before our return into the US.

Flying Dogs To Italy : Our FedEx package heading to Austin to gain our dogs' clearance for travel to Italy4. A certificate of good health didactically printed in English and Italian completed and signed by our Vet and validated by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) in Austin within 10 days of our departing flight. Whew! FedEx, here we come!

5. A travel dog crate or carrier, which met IATA (International), USDA (Domestic) and carrier (Delta) travel requirements. Since our dogs were large they would be traveling in a large "500 Series" crate which we purchased at our local PetSmart.

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley check out their crates at La Tabaccaia outside Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy

Surprisingly, none of our paperwork was checked when traveling into Italy, but that doesn't mean you don't need it!

Flying Doggies

Getting to the airport turned out to be its own adventure. We decided we wanted a direct flight to Italy in order to minimize the opportunity for the dogs to miss a connecting flight as well as to shorten their crate time.

While we checked popular airline carriers - even "pet-only" airlines, we settled on Delta because we were able to: 1) travel on the same flight; 2) receive a consistent list of requirements each time we spoke to different representatives; 3) read and understand the risks from the Redacted Animal Incident Report which disclosed what prior pets experienced while in Delta's care; and 4) avoid potential quarantines by other countries by flying direct. Italy had no quarantine for our situation.

There were no direct flights from Texas to Italy. Since my dogs enjoy four wheeling I rented an SUV, we all piled in and drove two days from Dallas to Delta's hub in Atlanta, Georgia.

Flying Dogs To Italy : The dog friendly rest area at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
An airport skycap helped us for almost two hours while we assembled crates, found a rest area and navigated through the terminal for check in. Very helpful! To our delight, Delta's new international terminal had a dog-friendly pet station complete with fire hydrant and garden hose. We all rested here before the big take-off.

Since they were large dogs, Boomer and Harley could not fly in the main cabin as they couldn't fit under the seat in front of us. The boys would have to travel underneath in the baggage hold. The hold was pressurized and temperature controlled, but we were not together and there were unfamiliar noises below so we were extremely nervous wondering how our dogs were handling the experience.

Hopefully one day the airlines will allow in-cabin travel for well behaved large breed lap dogs ... even for a price.

Once we landed in Rome it took about an hour until our pack was finally reunited. The dogs did great although we were all "groggy" from the 10 hour flight. We piled into our rental car along with three pieces of luggage, two backpacks and two carry-ons. Then we quickly pulled roadside for water and food. Recharged, we were ready for the real adventure to begin  three bountiful months in Italy!

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley on a dog walk outside Montepulciano, ItalyWhen In Italy
Our pack chose the Tuscany region as our home base.

Boomer and Harley did amazingly well adjusting to life over-seas  even better than us humans. They weren't bothered with things like language barriers, exchange rates or wishful Tex-Mex food sightings.

Most days
Flying Dogs To Italy : Harley and Boomer outside Castello di Montecchio in Tuscany
they spent traveling with us to small villages for a taste of new sights and sounds ... and we went on long, restful walks together across hill and dale.

Flying Dogs To Italy : A wild Tuscan Rabbit
Along the way Boomer and Harley met several kittie and doggie friends plus a few pheasant and wild rabbits. Doggie Heaven.

Italian Foodies

We expected that finding their dog food would have been easier than it was, but most of Italy's pet food stores do not offer grain-free foods (there are no PetSmart or Pet Supplies Plus superstores). Since we couldn't transport 180+ pounds of kibble overseas (enough for Boomer and Harley to eat for three months), a friend back in Texas and I both went online to find a solve.

Flying Dogs To Italy : Rome's Il Tucano pet store where we purchased grain free dog food
After a four-hour emer-gency food trip to the Il Tucano pet store outside Rome and a few days searching online, we finally found an awesome online company called Miscota which turned out to be the best sniff-find! While Miscota is based in Spain, we were able to have our 30 pound bags of specialty pet food "Taste of the Wild" delivered to our Italy stay in just two days with free shipping for spending over 50 . The Miscota company logoFour paws up! I definitely recommend checking Miscota out online before traveling to ensure they have what your pet needs.

Returning Home

While we thought the return trip would be easier, it was actually more difficult. We had to overcome a foreign language, a new Vet and Italian policies. We were extremely advantaged in that our hosts spoke English and Italian and they were animal lovers.

Flying Dogs To Italy : The Azienda USL approves our puppy paperwork
After four weeks of multiple trips to our local Vet and the Azienda USL where the area health Vet was located, we netted out that we needed the following:

1. A Certificate Of Good Health obtained from our local Vet clinic dated within ten days of our departing flight (Delta wanted this).

2. A de-worming and flea and tick treatment via "Nemex" and "Frontline" within 48 hours of visiting the USL for the pet passport (the USL said they required this).

Flying Dogs To Italy : Our EU Pet Passports3. A European Pet Passport since we were departing neighboring Paris, France bound for Atlanta (the EU requirement). Assuming you are lucky and are departing Italy direct for the US you should not need the passport, but most likely still #1 and #2 above.

Once again, none of our paperwork was checked when departing Italy or France, but that doesn't mean you don't need it! We did have to present our Rabies Certificate after arriving stateside in Atlanta (the rabies certificate we needed prior to leaving the US).

Our European Dismount

We drove for two days from our base in Castiglion Fiorentino bound for Paris with no issues. We had to find pet friendly hotels that would accept the breed and size of our pets. We also had to be comfortable with the pet surcharges imposed by the hotel. Staying with friends is highly recommended!

There were of course doggy differences between the Paris CDG and Atlanta airports. In Paris there were no skycaps or astro-turfy rest areas to greet us (just curbs). But unlike Atlanta, we were surprisingly able to take the dogs inside the terminal without being crated which was nice.

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley at the Texas Welcome Center on I-20A few inflight hours later and we were back on US soil without any issues. We reclaimed Boomer and Harley, presented our valid rabies certificate, secured our car rental and were finally "free" again. We drove two days back to Texas bound for some Tex-Mex food ... and the next chapter of life.

Happy Tails

While I'm doubtful we'll make as grand a journey like that again, I'm grateful my four pack had a brief window of opportunity and lept right through it.

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley playing catch under the Tuscan sun at Borgo del Molinello

Boomer and Harley literally had the best of days funning "Under the Tuscan Sun". More importantly, the experience made our pack realize how much we take for granted and ultimately how much we love and rely upon each other. "The simple things."

Plus, how many Texas Labs can boast that they've been to Italy and back while earning their "truest of true" flying doggie wings?

Flying Dogs To Italy : Boomer and Harley's Wings (compliments of Delta airlines)
Have a question about traveling with your dog to Italy?

Email me

Please Note: The information in this post is based on my personal travel experience to Italy in the winter of 2012-2013. Always check with your local Vet and your airline (the experts) for up-to-date changes to policy and procedure regarding pet travel. I’m sharing this information in the hopes it will help you with your pet travel experience. As a prudent pet parent, you assume any and all reward or risk implementing the information! Proceed with caution and have fun. 

No comments: