(Before I turn this space over to Simon, here are two suggestions that might be helpful. (1) The following information, in most cases, applies to pets in general. If you’re planning to take your furry friend outside the U.S., always check the official government website of the country you will be visiting. This is also true of Hawaii, which has very stringent conditions for animals coming into the state. (2) Before reading the information below, make sure that you have a tall glass of water next to you. This stuff is dry as noon in a desert, but it could save you a lot of hassle and heartache if you want to travel with your pooch.)
Although it is Penny that is the Guide Dog handler we have found it easier for me to do the research, obtain and complete the relevant forms and then ensure that they get to the right place at the right time. All the information and links are current as of May, 2014. This will be a living document because as we travel to different countries I will add specific information for those countries.
So first for a bit of background. For a Guide Dog to successfully negotiate all the necessary health requirements in the international arena they must have an embedded microchip. While we know that some Guide Dog schools are installing a microchip before releasing a working dog to his/her new owner this was not the case at the time that Penny trained with Otto. Most animals that are microchipped in the USA have a 9-digit encrypted chip, however in Europe and possibly some other countries they will be looking for a 15 digit ISO microchip. Avid (https://www.avidid.com) is one company that supply both the 9-digit encrypted and the 15-digit ISO microchips.
What we determined was that not all veterinarians in the USA have the necessary equipment to read the 15-digit ISO microchips so if a chip is required it is essential that you not only ensure that the correct type is installed for your intended purpose but that the veterinarian can find and read the installed chip. If your dog is already microchipped but does not have a 15-digit unit it is possible to either rent or purchase a scanner from Avid that will demonstrate the presence of the chip and read the number to match with your documentation when traveling overseas.
If a new chip is installed in order for a rabies certificate to be valid the dog must be vaccinated after the chip is installed so that the microchip number can be included on the rabies certificate. Also international travel can not commence until at least 21 days after the vaccination and for some countries that require a serological test, the rabies neutralizing antibody titer can not be measured until at least 30-days after the rabies vaccination.
Although we had traveled with Guide Dogs to Europe in the 1990’s with virtually no documentation we, along with all other Guide Dog users were precluded from visiting the UK because of their antiquated and insular approach to rabies prevention. However, over the past several years there have been immense improvements and there are now established mechanisms in place for a traveler with a disability to enter the UK with their service dog. We put this to the test for the first time in early 2013 when we had to travel to England on family business and I have confirmed that the same procedures for our trip this summer.
We were actually due in England in late February but because we were also planning to visit Israel we started the process of getting documentation in place during the first week of January.
The UK does not require the rabies neutralizing antibody titer certification. What they do require is the duly completed European Union Annex II Form. This document along with your service animal identification card and rabies certificate has to be sent for certification by the USDA. In North Carolina the office is in Raleigh but each State has their own office location – just search for the USDA APHIS Export office.
For entry into the UK all dogs must also be treated for tapeworm every time you want to enter the UK at least 24 hours and up to 5 days before arrival. Instructions on the pill to be administered are available from the UK government website. The official veterinary certificate must indicate when the dose was given which means that you literally have to time the submission of the documentation to USDA APHIS so that you have time to receive it back prior to departure.
One other small wrinkle in this process is that all documentation must be emailed to the UK so that on arrival one can be met at the door to the plane and documentation can be confirmed before being allowed to proceed. A detailed description of the process for arrival at London Heathrow is available from the City of London website.
Our experience of this arrival procedure was that we were treated with courtesy by a functionary who had to make sure that every “i” was dotted. It must have taken at least 15 minutes with poor Otto crossing his legs after a 9 hour plane ride before we were released to proceed through customs and immigration.
As previously mentioned we combined a trip to the UK and Israel and all the necessary paperwork for the two trips was worked on at the same time.
Israel does require the rabies neutralizing antibody titer certification. The test has to be conducted at least 30 days after the most recent rabies vaccination. To obtain this document, blood is drawn and sent to the Rabies Laboratory, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Full details of the process is provided by the Rabies Laboratory. One must generally allow at least three to four weeks to receive the certification from the Laboratory but they do have an expedited service for a fee. For a service animal it is best to contact them ahead of time to let them know that the sample is coming and also to include a letter and a copy of your service dog certification. The KSU laboratory will waive some if not all the fees for a certified service animal. If expedited delivery is needed you can include appropriate prepaid packaging (Fedex, UPS or other).
Israel has their own set of documentation to complete. A word of warning – the first page is in Hebrew but if you scroll past that page you will find the instructions and the required form in English.
In common with the requirements for the UK the service dog must have an ISO microchip but you also need the results of the serological test for rabies neutralizing antibody titer. In addition it should be noted that Israel apparently does not recognize a three year vaccination certificate and thus all dogs have to have been vaccinated within a one year period prior to travel and the serological test must have been completed a minimum of 30-days post vaccination.
The completed form has to be certified by a State veterinarian at the USDA office (as described above for the UK) and then faxed to the port of entry (that is usually Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv) at least 2 days prior to arrival. The fax numbers for several points of entry are provided on the instruction sheet that accompanies the form. As I recall I actually emailed all the material to someone at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
As an aside we found that when we arrived in Israel the immigration officer had absolutely no interest in the veterinary forms and was more interested in grilling Penny, who was born in Israel, on the purpose of her visit.
For dogs originating in the USA a USDA form APHIS 7001 is required. This form is completed by your vet and then sent to the State Veterinarian (USDA) for certification. With proof of your dog’s training as a Guide Dog the State Veterinarian should waive their fees. Then the certification and the duly completed Panamanian documents get sent to the embassy in Washington along with a copy of the current rabies certificate, a fee of $30 and a self-addressed envelope for the return of all documents. There are no fee waivers here for service dogs, I think mainly because the Panamanians really do not have a good concept of a working dog.
We have found that the best approach for moving forms is to send either a prepaid Fedex envelope or a stamped Priority Mail envelope depending on the urgency of receiving the documentation.
On receiving the forms duly certified by the Panamanian Embassy they then need to be forwarded to the Ministry of Health at least 3 days prior to arrival. We found that the best approach was to scan the material and email everything to the Ministry of Health in Panama ensuring that the arrival information is included in the email.
For our visit to Panama and traveling with Delta we had no problems – all I did was to inform them that my wife was traveling with her Guide Dog to ensure that we had seating with enough legroom – no extra documentation here. On arrival at Toucomon Airport, in Panama City, Panama, we found that they were prepared for our arrival and after collecting our luggage they directed us to the Quarantine Department. We paid an additional fee there – I think $16 – and were out of there within about 15 minutes. Everybody was very helpful and gracious.
If you want to further discuss this one-on-one please feel free to contact Penny directly by email through her blog with your contact info.