Moving to Mexico: Transporting a pet to another country

Regular readers (of the knitting variety) may want to skip this post, as it contains more detail on the regulations of transporting pets and flying dogs in airplanes than the average person could possibly be interested in. However, if you are a Samson fan, I have interspersed pleasant portraits of him throughout that you can scroll for. Here…I’ll give you a nice one just to start us off, and to show new visitors exactly who it is we spent months trying to bring to Mexico.

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The cats probably deserve a sidebar here. We miss Teddy and Edith terribly, but from the beginning we didn’t plan to relocate them. We couldn’t be sure how safe it would be to let them roam Cholula (cars? stray dogs? a populace unfriendly to naive gringo cats?) and reducing them to apartment living at this point would be painful. Plus, they’re young and healthy. We felt like they’d be happiest with my parents, and after nine months we can all reunite.

Samson was a different story, as I think dogs just generally care more about being with their owners. He’s also really old – 14 or 15 – meaning that nine months with my parents becomes a more uncertain time frame. And he loves some of the daily features of life in Mexico – sun, warmth, smells, accessible trash – so we thought it could be a nice retirement.

P1070995While we ultimately arranged to fly Sam to Mexico, our first plan was actually to drive there. We wanted the convenience of a car, especially once we found out about the baby, but also so R. could easily visit remote research sites (renting a car in Mexico is surprisingly expensive, due to mandatory international insurance, and long-term lease options don’t exist). I started pouring over maps and reading expat forums on the best places to cross, and researching the regulations on importing and insuring a car in Mexico. It’s a lot more complicated than driving to Baja for a two week vacation.

But over several months, the plan to make a 37-hour road trip to Mexico slowly fell apart. First, the federal government, which sponsors R’s grant, wouldn’t allow driving due to travel advisories at the border. When pushed they relented, saying we would have to sign a waiver acknowledging we were doing so against their safety recommendations. We were still committed, assuring ourselves that thousands of people cross the border every day, and that as long as we traveled big toll highways during daylight hours, we’d be fine. Then R’s advisor, a well-seasoned world traveler, said he’d heard from fellow academics that driving into Mexico isn’t anything like what it used to be, and that those who have done it for decades are no longer willing after experiencing things like illegal cartel checkpoints on the highway. Ouch. The final nail was learning that because we don’t own our car outright – because we make payments to the bank – we’d never be able to get the bank to agree to insuring the car for a year in Mexico.

And with that, I returned this spring to googling “How to fly your dog to Mexico.” Here’s what I can offer…

Be careful with the googling
Samson is too big to fit under a seat, which was all the more distressing because most of the initial search hits are news stories about dogs and cats that died horrible deaths in the cargo holds. Yes, it happens. But not nearly as much as search results suggest. To offset the salacious news articles, I suggest:
– Talking with your vet. Or a few vets. Mine works frequently with clients who fly large pets in cargo. She has also flown her own golden retrievers cross-country.
– Reviewing statistics. This article and this one were especially helpful.
– Checking out Pet Relocation, a company that does just that for (I thought) a hefty fee. Seeing their blog of pets successfully flown round the world helped give me perspective. All the pugs flying to Singapore reminded me we just had to get Sammy to the next country over.

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The costs add up. So does the bureaucracy.
United is not my favorite airline for human passengers, but they do have one of the best records for transporting animals under their Petsafe program. They also service Mexico.  This blog post was, by FAR, the most helpful and accurate in describing the steps involved in flying your dog. The flight, the cargo fee, the vet certifications…I was doing great until I got to #4 – Find a customs broker. This required calling a long list of Mexican phone numbers to try and find a customs broker who would meet Samson at the airport and be responsible for getting him through, all for nearly $700. I was pregnant, facing a long to-do list that included closing things up at work for a year, packing up the house, researching insurance and birth options in Mexico…I broke down and contacted Pet Relocation, whose fee suddenly started to look quite reasonable.

It’s hard not to fantasize about being independently wealthy
That’s because there are times when a shit-ton of money can solve a problem, and this is one of them. Me? I would’ve chartered a private jet so Sam wouldn’t have to fly cargo. Or maybe ordered up a yacht and we could’ve all happily sailed to Veracruz before getting in a rented towncar for the drive to Cholula. Ugh. I hate to confess how many times I returned to this fantasy.

No amount of research and planning will answer the truly difficult questions
Am I doing this for the dog, or me? Am I more okay with risking that he’ll not survive the flight, or that the end of his life will come and I won’t be there? Should I even be going to Mexico, as compared to carrying on with work/apt/pets/baby in the States and making visits? And so on. No one knows the answers. The best you can do is surround yourself with supportive friends and family who, even if they disagree with your decisions, understand that they’re difficult. We were very fortunate in this regard.

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The best-laid plans…
After all the arrangements – the vet appointment, the Pet Relocation fee, getting Sam used to a kennel, finding a pet-friendly Mexican apartment – I woke up two days before our flight and found Samson immobile on the bed. He was breathing, but too fast and too shallow. He couldn’t walk.

We rushed him to the vet and found out that his gallbladder was all sludged up and there were two small tumors on his spleen. The vet was optimistic that medication would clear up the gallbladder, said that there wasn’t a way to tell if the tumors were benign (without surgery), and warned against Samson flying…definitely for a while, maybe for good.

We cried. A lot. We paid a fee to delay our flights for a few days and talked through what it would look like for Sam to stay with my parents. The events of the morning had shown me just how hard it would be to handle the same situation in Mexico given our lack of a car and my lack of language skills. What if R. were out doing research? Could I get Sam to the vet…would a cab even take him? We both thought that maybe this was all a sign that our old dog wasn’t as prepared for international travel as we’d hoped. So we spent the remaining days with him, we gave him lots of pets and hugs, and we told him he had to live at least a month…long enough to get our visas settled so that we could be allowed to come back and visit.

Samson’s vet appointment last week went well. It’s always uncertain with a dog his age, but with luck he’ll last the next nine months. I hope. I know he’s getting the best care and love with my parents. But…it’s hard. I’ve dreamed about him. I caught a sweatshirt on the couch out of the corner of my eye the other day and for a second thought it was him.

Photo on 5-8-12 at 12Our last week in Ohio, before Sam got sick, I was visiting my grandparents. My grandpa asked how much it cost to fly Sam to Mexico. When I refused to tell him, he guessed it probably cost “$25 or $50…at least,” and then asked did I really think it was worth all the hassle and money? I replied that Samson is that dog, the one I’ll compare all other dogs to. And what do I work every day for if not to spend money on trying to get him to Mexico to be with me? My grandpa – a 92-year old non-nonsense midwestern farmer – softened. Then he got a little choked up himself. Last month their little old chihuahua passed away, and he said that he still looks for her next to the table or beside the bed, and sometimes he thinks he can feel her brush his pant leg. “Those dogs. They become like family. I understand.”

So if you are trying to move heaven and earth to bring a family member across international borders, I understand. I really do. And so does my grandpa (provided we let him think it’s not much more than $50). I wish for you good luck and supportive friends. Oh, and if you happen to be a long-distance trucker who regularly runs a route between the midwest and the state of Puebla, I have a little black and tan friend who I’d pay a pretty penny for if he could ride in your cab. He would only require a good classic country music station and some beef jerky sticks from the truckstops.

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11 comments

  1. Pingback: Life without Sam | Foxflat's Blog
  2. Karen Howard · July 28, 2015

    So sweet article! I am going to move to another apartment with my dog and I am so nervous. I don’t want to cause him any stress but I guess this is inevitably. Thank you for the nice tips!

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  7. TR · September 15, 2014

    i saw Sam’s twin at brice creek Saturday. Seriously, a twin. And I swam in Brice. And it was very, very cold. And awesome.

    • foxflat · September 16, 2014

      whoaa – it was like a spirit animal. if it was sam’s twin then he probably didn’t get in the water, huh? I can’t believe you did!

  8. Molly · September 15, 2014

    This is heartbreaking. As someone who has made many a travel plan around the well-being and comfort of our dogs, I can’t even imagine the effort and stress involved in plans of this magnitude. And then to have them all come apart – so sad. Thinking of you, and of Samson, and hoping for the very best!

  9. raanve (@raanve) · September 12, 2014

    ❤ ❤ ❤ Love to you & to Samson. (He's a dog -i- compare other dogs to.)

  10. TR · September 11, 2014

    that made me cry. nice job.

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