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Four-Legged Visitors

dog-friendsTraveling to TCI with your pet

Story & Photos By Michele Belanger-McNair

My husband has packing nightmares before we leave on our annual two month trip to Salt Cay. I thought, “Why not add to those nightmares by taking the dog?” Fortunately, taking Marley to Salt Cay, a small, somewhat isolated part of the Turks Islands, was not a nightmare. Having him with us has brought more joy to our trips and allows us to stay for months at a time.

It was not always this way. Our late dog, Boomer, was not a happy traveller. We hated leaving him behind and kept our trips short. When Boomer passed on, I knew our next Golden Retriever pup was going to be chosen with travel in mind, and trained to do it well. He had to have a Caribbean name, as well, and Marley seemed to suit him.

Research yourself and your pet
Fortunately, much of my training and trip preparation information was available online through pet travel, airline and government web sites.

Crate training was the first must-do. Not only did it make housebreaking a snap, but Marley considered his crate a protective den. (That isn’t to say he doesn’t want out after 12 hours in the crate, but he does not mind being in the crate during stressful times. The crate has never been a place for punishment. Being told to go “in” is just another instruction.)

The crate stays in storage between trips now. When we bring home the crate, as soon as Marley sees it and his travel bag he knows he will be making a journey soon and relaxes.

But training alone does not make a good traveler, whether human or animal. Just as some people are not good travelers, so are some pets. Our pets are not looking at travel brochures or dreaming of azure blue waters. You are.

Evaluate your pet’s ability to travel by asking yourself some serious questions:

*Is your pet nervous and high strung at the best of times?
*Does your pet bark at anything or most of the time?
*Can you trust your pet alone?
*Can you trust your pet not to run off if stressed?
*Does stress make your pet ill?

Is your pet a dog or a cat? Although we have friends who take their cats for long trips, that is not a consideration for us. Our cats make the five-minute drive to the vet’s office a test of wills and endurance. As well, Salt Cay is not conducive to outdoor cats as there are feral cats and birds of prey that will hunt small animals, including cats and dogs.

Lastly, evaluate your own nature. Are you capable of dealing with your own travel problems and your pet’s as well?

If you hate to fly, will your pet pick up on that? If you worry your luggage will be lost, then remember your pet is going to be luggage. Can you handle the stress?

What will your pet do while you are scuba diving, snorkeling, sightseeing or dining out and they have nothing but time on their paws? If your pet cannot be with you the majority of the time, is it worth the risk?

How long do you plan to be gone and how long is the travel time? For us, a two week trip from California to the Islands is not worth the risk/reward.

If you think you and your pet are up to the task, then there are some basic issues you need to research and address.

Who needs sedation?
Many people think their pet has to be sedated to travel. The question is really who needs the sedation when all is said and done. You? Or the pet?

Marley is never sedated, as he deals quite well with reality and the people who are handling him. As a result, he normally gets let out of his crate by airline handlers to walk, water and play a little. We also tend to travel at night so his sleep pattern isn’t affected and he is typically drowsy.

Other travelers we know do sedate their pets, especially cats brought into the cabin as “carry-on” luggage. (Most people don’t appreciate hearing a cat’s yowling and crying during a flight of any duration!)

We considered sedation and talked to Marley’s veterinarian. She advised us that there is a fine line between relieving your pet’s anxieties with sedation and putting them so deeply asleep they cannot fend for themselves. No veterinarian can predict exactly how a tranquilizer will affect your pet at altitude. Pets need to be able to brace themselves when the crate is moved, deal with heat or cold, and drink water as needed.

Airlines do not require sedation. Some airlines do want to know if the pet is sedated and require that a vet’s letter setting forth the drug and dosage be affixed to the crate. Other airlines do not ask. No airline will administer a sedative to your pet for you.

Talk to your vet about sedation and ask questions that concern you. You will need to see your vet before the trip, so be prepared to find out the facts.

Your pet’s going on vacation. Now what?

south-shore-palsThe Turks & Caicos Islands, as well as the airlines providing pet carrier service, all have restrictions. Research each and every airline you will be traveling on, print out the website information regarding pet travel policy and bring that information with you.

There is no quarantine period for your dog or cat when entering the TCI. However, you must present a signed veterinary certificate, dated within one month of travel, indicating the animal is in good health, free of contagious or infectious diseases and vaccinated against rabies and distemper.

Bring your pet’s current rabies vaccination certificate. If traveling from the US, be sure to have the FDA’s required certificate. (All vets will have this pink form. Consider it your pet’s passport. Make several copies to take with you.) Your pet and their documents will be inspected at Customs upon entry into the Turks & Caicos Islands.

If your dog is of a fighting breed, or a highly specialized breed, you will want to research whether your pet will be allowed on the airline as well as into the country. If you attempt to bring a Pit Bull, for instance, into the TCI, you and your pet will be denied entry.

Airlines will refuse any animal exhibiting aggressive behavior. Some specify breeds they will not take. Again, check the websites for specifics. Puppies and kittens must be eight weeks old to travel on the airlines.

Almost all airlines put embargoes on pet travel between May 15 and September 15 due to heat. But do not take for granted they can travel on any other dates. A certificate of acclimation may be required for cold or hot weather at your destination. Also, if your pet is pug-nosed, breathing can be difficult in moderately hot weather and the airlines may refuse to take your pet.

If your pet is denied boarding, you may not be leaving either. Be sure to have alternate plans as you will be solely responsible for a pet that is not boarded.

Airlines charge you for pet travel, even if the pet is in a carry-on bag. Airlines also count that carry-on you paid for against your carry-on allowance. And, if you have the opportunity to fly First Class but there is no under-seat space, then your pet cannot be in that cabin.

A word of advice about carry-on pets. Do not try to sneak your Teacup Terrier onto the plane in a regular carry-on bag. Not only is your pet at risk, your trip is at risk. Your pet has to clear security, including having a paid boarding pass. The pet has to come out of the bag, literally. Between security and the airline, you and your pet will be denied the right to board if you attempt to smuggle the pet aboard.

Crates and carriers
Your pet needs an airline-approved crate for cargo or carrier for the cabin. Research the proper size for your pet. Also make sure you have the travel kit with stickers, bowls and padding for your pet.

Marley’s crate has his name, itinerary, feeding information and phone numbers en route and on island. He has a bag with his leash, food, cookies and some treats for the handlers. We have also decorated his crate with reflective tape so it can be seen at night anywhere at an airport or in a darkened hold.

Since your pet is going to be in this crate for many hours, be sure to get them a decent bed. Put a favorite soft toy in there if you trust them. Avoid squeaker toys, rawhides or anything they could chew up or choke on while alone.

Lastly, ensure the crate will not come apart by securing the attachment points with electrical ties. Have a bungee cord on the crate’s door to prevent it from springing open.

Welcome to the Turks & Caicos Islands
You and your pet have arrived! Vacation time. Collect your pet and luggage and head for your next island or your accommodations on Providenciales. (A word of advice on letting your pet out of the carrier. Do not let them out in the luggage area. Clear Customs and then let them out in a controlled manner on their leash.)

Did you make sure your hotel, house or cottage allows pets? Did you clear it with the owner and property manager? Few rental properties allow pets and restaurants will not allow them to join you at dinner.

What do you bring for your pet? Consider your pet to have their own luggage or a good part of yours. Bring enough food for a couple of days in your carry-on. If your pet has special food needs: bring it. Pet food in the TCI is hit or miss for brands and supply. On the outer islands, there may be no pet food at all.

Dog meets cow on Salt CayBring some treats, all medications and a first aid book for dogs. Except on Providenciales, there will be no vet to take your pet to if there is an emergency. On Salt Cay, I have seen dogs bitten by donkeys, kicked by cows, hit by cars or carts and watched my own dog fall out of the golf cart on his back. There are cacti everywhere to get into and plenty of sand burrs. Bring flea and tick products and a brush or shedding rake. Mosquitoes can carry heartworm in the Islands as well as most places in the world today. Be sure your dog is on heartworm medication.

dog-meets-cowBring two leashes — one to put on the crate and another in your carry-on with a carabineer or other way to easily attach your pet to a post, pole or yourself. We make sure Marley has two collars, both sturdy. Each has full identification with a local number and our cell phone numbers. We also have some photos in case he goes missing.

If your pet is not used to heat, be very aware of heat stroke and how to care for it immediately. Dogs need lots of water on island and cool places to lay. If walking with your dog, take several bottles of water for him. Consider getting a hydration supplement such as K9 Quencher or K9 Blue Lite Electrolyte. Dogs expel heat through their paws and tongue. They are low to the sand and will be much hotter than you are.

We take Marley snorkeling with us most every day. He loves it. For long swims, he wears a life vest with a rope. We taught him to heel in the water so he couldn’t claw us to shreds. This is great exercise for him and he looks forward to beach time every day.

Pet reservations
Be sure to make your pet’s reservation on all airlines you will be traveling on. If flying your pet in the cabin, call well in advance as a limited number of pets are allowed in each cabin.

In cargo, airlines will only allow so many crates for a given flight or type of plane. Be sure your reservation indicates you will be bringing a crate. It’s a good idea to check in as early as possible with the crate. But take your animal with you and return when the airline indicates they are ready to board your pet.

Don’t worry about conditions in the hold. Many pilots have advised us that the holds are softly lit and the temperature is the same as you have in the cabin.

Have fun!
We truly enjoy having Marley with us on our long trips. We don’t worry about him being home and lonely. Tourists enjoy petting him as they miss their pets. Sometimes they ask if they can dog-sit for Marley if we are going diving or off island to shop.

One thing is for sure. You and your pet will be welcome in the Turks & Caicos Islands. And just like most visitors, after one trip here, your pet will never want to be left behind again.

Michele Belanger-McNair is an attorney in California who is trying to retire to pursue writing, photography and travel. She’s been visiting Salt Cay since 1998 and purchased a home on the island in 2000. Michele maintains a web site with stories and photos detailing her trips to Salt Cay at www.saltcaynews.blogspot.com.



5 Comments

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Kathy Koch
Apr 3, 2012 14:08

Hi Michele,
I just read your article and found it to be highly informative! We are taking our first trip to Provo in November from NY, and are bringing our 5 year old Havanese dog with us. He has traveled with us (in cabin) many times before…Most recently to Aruba. We never have to tranquilize him – we are lucky as he is a very good dog.
My question to you would be about the immigration procedures for him…I have looked on multiple websites, and even emailed the address provided for the government vet there, but have gotten no response… Basically, the results I’ve seen online have varied greatly. One website says he will need a titer test, a lyme disease shot, and a plethora of additional blood tests, plus a microchip, which he has. On another site it said that you simply have to show documentation that the dog is up to date on their shots, and then there is some variety on other sites in between. Since you travel back and forth from the US quite a bit it seems, maybe you can help me out with what we will actually need to make sure that our little guy is safe, and not quarantined. I also don’t want to subject him to a bunch of unnecessary and expensive tests. (The titer test alone is more than $500 as per my vet in NYC).
Also, is there a feral dog problem there like there is on many caribbean isles? Is there anything that you would recommend that we bring for him other than his food? This breed comes from Cuba, so they are fine with the heat, but if there’s anything else that you can share from your extensive visits, I would be incredibly appreciative and thankful!
Thanks and Regards, Kathy

Paul
Jul 9, 2012 6:59

Great article. In your research did you find a kennel or boarding facility in T & C ? We are considering moving there but worry about leaving our dog for short trips back to Canada where we are from. Thanks Paul

turks & caicos
Aug 9, 2012 8:41

Turks and Caicos, great islands for summer vacation. And you’re very close to the Bahamas

Richard
Nov 26, 2013 14:31

We have a 2 weeks reservation for the Christmas Holidays at ESENCIA VILLA on Long Bay. This will be our 4th visit in 13 months, needless to say we love TC. We intend to bring our little female Schnaunzer dog on a Wetjet flight direct from Montreal on Dec 20 return on Jan 3. Looking at the importation documents for the dog, it is not clear if the our pet needs a Blood Titer Test since it’s coming from Canada.
Our dog has all the other vaccinations including the one for rabies. We will have a Pet Passport for TC. filled up and signed by our local vet. , but time from now to the trip wouldn’t allow us to get the results for the Blood Titer test, we understand it takes 6 – 8 weeks to get the results.
Is the Blood Titer Test a must or it can be waived since the pet comes from Canada or USA since there both the same as far as rabies ? Any suggestions ? we would appreciate.

Julie Seguin

Deborah
Apr 25, 2014 9:13

I am considering travel to T&C with my coton du tulear and wondering like many others about the resitrictions.
We are from Toronto, Canada and have travelled with our four legged family member to many places within North America. He has travelled by plane with us and has done well. He is up to date with all vaccines, is micro chipped and in excellent health.
My question is…what is this blood titer test others are referring to?
Regards,
Deborah

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