Our pace of life has picked up quite a bit the past few weeks between work and the holidays and I’ve fallen far behind on my regular blog posts. This post is long overdue though as our pup, Mae, has been in Australia with us for almost two months now. The process of getting her here was one of the most laborious tasks in our relocation and the story definitely deserves its own post.
The very first thing I did after Matt asked me if I would consider moving to Australia was to Google the quarantine requirements for Mae, our dog. I knew that if the process was too daunting, or if she would be required to stay in a facility for months, that it wouldn’t be feasible (or desirable) to bring her. And I knew that if we couldn’t bring her, then our answer to the question of moving to Australia would be a resounding “no”. We consider her a part of our family and take very seriously the commitment we made when getting her to take care of her. And at four years old she is just settling down from puppyhood and is in the prime of her life – something we didn’t want to miss.
I easily found the Australian quarantine webpage, which lists out in detail the steps that must be taken to complete the quarantine requirements for a dog’s entry into the country. In a nutshell, a dog coming from a Group 3 country (which includes the United States) must first have a microchip implanted and then undergo a rabies titer test (which tests the levels of antibodies the dog has to rabies and confirms they are not infected). Following the rabies titer test, a dog must wait a minimum of 180 days before being eligible for import into Australia. During the 180 days they receive a variety of other tests (mostly parasite related) and receive additional vaccines, which must be done by a USDA-approved vet (most vets are approved – including our normal vet). Various forms and paperwork must be completed to get the import permit. After 180 days, they must fly directly to the city of Melbourne as cargo, where they are immediately transported to the Mickleham Quarantine Station for a minimum 10-day stay. At the quarantine facility, they undergo additional tests, and then as long as no issues arise, they are released after 10 days.
It sounds like a lot – and it is! This is really only a very brief summary too. For much more detailed information on the process, see the Australian Government’s Step by Step Guide for Dogs.
The 180 day waiting period initially gave us quite a bit of heartburn. It was already April and we knew that Matt’s company wanted us to move in June or July, which meant Mae wouldn’t be ready to come with us when we left. In fact, she wouldn’t be ready to come until the very end of October, and our pick up date wouldn’t be until November! That meant over four months without her. Other than that, none of the other requirements worried us too much though. And luckily, the prices associated with each step are not listed on the webpage since they vary case by case. If we had known how much it would cost, we might have never really even considered the move. But luckily, the sticker shock came a bit later after we had mostly already committed.
We decided pretty early on to employ the services of a pet relocation company. Although each step is more or less straightforward, there are a lot of steps, and they must be done correctly and in the right order or the whole process may need to be started over. And, since we would be leaving for Australia early on in the process, we knew we wouldn’t be there to manage all of the vet visits and paperwork ourselves. We spoke with a handful of different consultants and easily decided on the company Pet Relocation as they were professional, accessible and very friendly.
The sticker shock came when we got our quote from the relocation company and started adding all of the pieces together. Here are the primary costs involved (approximate in U.S. dollars):
- One-way plane ticket on United Cargo: about $2500
- Rabies Titer Test: $250
- Vet Visits: $1000
- 10 Day Quarantine Stay: $1200
- Crate and other flying supplies: $300
- relocation agent fees, import permit fees, pre-flight vet check, and pre-flight kennel stay: $3000
Luckily we were already committed at that point, and we really do love our dog that much.
Mae went in for her rabies titer test at the end of April and we kicked off the 180 day waiting period. On June 29th, Matt, Theo and I left for Australia and Mae stayed behind. She began shuffling between Matt’s and my parent’s houses depending on who was home and not traveling. We missed her terribly during this time, but knew she was with people who loved her and would take wonderful care of her. We got frequent photo updates and got to see her on Face Time.
Before we left we fitted Mae for her travel crate, which was probably the most difficult task we had to accomplish as part of her preparations. The airlines are incredibly strict about the size and require a minimum of four inches of clearance above their head when they are sitting. Getting Mae to sit perfectly still in the crate while we held a measuring tape over her head was almost impossible. Of course, she fell perfectly between two sizes. We ended up choosing the XL Petmate Sky Kennel (the larger of the two sizes and the largest size available before needing a custom crate). In addition to the crate, we had to order metal bolts, water bowls and special pads to line the crate and wick away any moisture.
The last week of October, Mae was finally ready to leave! Pet Relocation had scheduled her flight and quarantine stay months before (both must be booked well in advance). My parents drove her up to Kennel Club LAX where she spent her final night in the U.S. getting her USDA approvals. On October 25th at approximately 10PM Mae departed LAX bound directly for Melbourne. As soon as she was in the air, our relocation specialist sent us a link to her flight tracker so we could watch the progress of her plane across the Pacific Ocean.
We were exceptionally nervous about her flight and the conditions. As helpful as our pet relocation specialist was in making sure we completed all of the steps and in taking care of all the paperwork, the real value for us was her confident reassurance that Mae would be absolutely fine in transit. She reassured us that thousands of dogs make the trip safely every year and that she was in a comfortable, pressurized portion of the cargo cabin. She was also flying between two places with very mild climates, on a direct flight, so there would be very little time spent waiting on a tarmac (exposure to extreme temperatures before and after flights is one of the more dangerous parts of flying for pets).
A few hours after Mae’s arrival in Australia we received an email from the quarantine facility that Mae had arrived and was undergoing initial checks. Our relocation specialist had warned us that no news was good news, and luckily we didn’t hear from them again for the next 6 days when we got a second email confirming that she had been cleared and would be ready for release on day 10, as expected. We made our release appointment, choosing the very first one on the day of her release, which was 10AM since it was a Sunday.
We didn’t like the idea of her being in a facility for so long since we had never boarded her previously and she wasn’t used to it, but it was relieving to know she had made the journey safely and it was just a matter of days before we would pick her up. To occupy our minds, we spent most the time she was in the quarantine facility on a road trip around the Melbourne area and kept ourselves busy exploring.
Finally, 10 AM on Sunday, November 6th, 2016 arrived! After a few wrong turns on the highway and entering the wrong gate at the facility, we were finally waiting outside the correct pick up area. We showed the quarantine agent our photo ID, were given a manila folder containing all of her import records, and then her crate was wheeled out into the parking area. As soon as she heard our voices she began yipping and whining inside her crate. We let her out and she ran around wildly excited (although, truthfully, she runs around like crazy every day when we come home from work too – so it really wasn’t that different).
We loaded her and her massive crate into our car and drove the 8.5 hours back to Sydney. It took Mae a day or two to settle into living in our new house – she had to find all the perfect spots for sleeping and figure out how best to position herself to catch the tasty morsels that fall from our toddler’s eating area. But overall, it seems as though she has almost no idea she is anywhere different. And it is so wonderful for us to have her here.