Moving your pet overseas

July 10th, 2014

Ever wondered what it takes, when it comes to moving your pet overseas? Meet Molly. She may look like just your average miniature Schnauzer pup but, in fact, she managed to fly from Changchun in China to the latte-sipping city of Melbourne, without even batting an eyelid. Molly’s mum Jody speaks with Kylie Baracz about her pooch’s amazing journey.

When Molly started out, she was living with an Australian family in the Chinese city of Beijing. She was adopted to help the three children of the family feel more comfortable in a foreign city. The Smith family were great friends with another Australian couple, Craig and Jody O’Brien, as Mr Smith worked with Craig on a major construction project in the north eastern city of Changchun. “Before we met Molly in person, we had heard a lot of funny stories about her antics with her original Australian family,” says Jody O’Brien.

“Mr Smith would commute to Changchun each Monday morning and fly back to Beijing to be with his family each weekend.” Because he was in Changchun alone, Mr Smith often would visit the O’Brien’s for dinner. “Over a bottle or two of good Aussie red wine acquired in Beijing, we’d catch up on all his family news, which always included funny stories about the household antics of Miss Molly,” says Jody. Molly was a much-loved addition to the Smith household and, for close to four years, was an energetic, hilarious and integral part of their China life — often hopping in the basket of the kids’ bikes.

Relocating to Changchun

When the Smiths had to return to Australia a little earlier than they expected, they were left with the unfortunate dilemma of who would adopt Molly. The process of getting a dog back to Australia from China can be quite complex, so when the plan for their Chinese housekeeper to take her in fell through at the eleventh hour, Craig and Jody decided to adopt her. “We still had about six months to go on our project contract and, having recently found out that we wouldn’t be lucky enough to have children, we decided a four-legged furry kid might be just what we needed,” says Jody.

Molly also had a pre-existing condition called Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or more commonly referred to as dry eye syndrome. The disease is caused by either decreased tear production or increased tear film evaporation. “Veterinary care in China is not at the same standard that we are lucky to have access to in Australia, so the problem was not diagnosed early enough to take preventative action, but there was also limited access to medications that would make a difference,” says Jody.

“So Molly in those days was quite high maintenance, with her eyes needing to be cleaned out a few times a day and a lubricant applied to help with the moisture, as her own tear ducts were virtually dried up and not producing any tears. The other sad flow-on effect of this condition is that the lack of moisture causes damage to the cornea that ultimately results in partial or full blindness. It has been best described to us as seeing the world through dark, badly scratched sunglasses.”

The Smiths and the O’Briens knew that leaving her with anyone who didn’t take dog ownership and care of an animal seriously, would regrettably spell an early and possibly painful demise, and ultimately premature death for Molly. “It was our observation during our time in China that mature pet ownership and a responsible attitude to having a dog or cat as part of your family was not the norm, where those who can afford to have a pet can have a tendency to treat it like a toy — when they’re bored of it, they just leave it on the street,” says Jody. “And it’s very true that it is still very much the case that dogs are used as a source of protein in many Chinese provinces and cities. “The likelihood that Molly would end up on a plate was just something none of us could bear the thought of, so into our lives she came.”

The Smiths were able to engage the services of a “pet agent”, who looked after the transit of Molly from Beijing to Changchun — and on a stormy Sunday afternoon in late June 2012, Craig and Jody caught a taxi to Changchun Airport and waited four hours for Molly to arrive from Beijing — her first of what would be a number of solo flights! “From the minute we snapped off the cable ties on her doggy cage door and unravelled the several layers of tape that was wrapped around an already secure travel crate and she gingerly took her first steps into our life, we were completely smitten,” says Jody.

No dog left behind

The O’Briens were scheduled to finish their contract in early December, with plans to travel to Australia in late October/early November to attend an industry conference for Craig, before returning to China to pack up the last of their life there and head back to Australia for Christmas. There was just one last thing to consider — what will happen to poor Molly? “My husband, while being a big gruff six-foot-two man’s man, is also a big soft teddy bear who is not afraid to show emotion. When he said to me one morning with tears in his eyes, “we have to find a way to keep Molly with us”, I knew I had a project on my hands. One way or another, Molly was going to become an Aussie dog-citizen.”

So with the clock ticking and the calendar flipping over, Jody went into planning and organisation mode with “Operation Molly Passport”, which, in short, involved the following:

  1. Get all the Chinese export paperwork sorted, including blood tests, vet checks and flight arrangements
  2. Find a place for Molly to live for five months in Singapore
  3. Get her back to Australia

“Seems simple, looking back on it now, but in reality it was a multi-layered challenge. At every stage we got through that got her closer to Australia, we breathed a huge sigh of relief,” says Jody. “China can be a challenging country to live in and one of the most difficult aspects can be the often excruciating levels of bureaucracy you have to wade through that can seem like an endless sea of red stamps in a foreign language extremely difficult to understand. It’s just as difficult to get the pronunciation right so that you’re communicating the correct thing.”

Cutting through the red tape

The O’Briens’ first challenge was to get approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (see DAFF laws box out). This meant they would need to send her to a DAFF-approved country to live, before she can be sent to Australia. “My immediate priority was to make sure we could get the furry kid out of China. To do that, Molly and I had to travel back and forth to Beijing twice to get the stipulated rabies antibody tests and required vaccinations done in the prescribed timeframe as well as get all the related mandatory paperwork red stamped by the Chinese government-approved veterinarian,” says Jody.

“There was a lot of blind faith put in this process as my Mandarin was very rudimentary, but with the assistance of an entrepreneurial ‘pet transport agent’ who spoke great English and understood the process, we managed to jump through all those hoops. We also engaged the services of a pet agent in Singapore. While you can do it all yourself, the peace of mind you get from knowing everything is done by someone who is well-versed in the system and process is well worth the few extra dollars that it costs.”

At the same time all of this was happening, Jody was scouring the internet to find a solution to her import requirements to live in a DAFF-approved country for six continuous months. Through a series of lucky searches and sheer determination, Jody found a wonderful Singaporean family who do dog sitting for ex-pats — so after a series of emails back and forth, Molly had a new temporary family with whom she would stay once she was out of quarantine in early December.

Operation Molly Passport

Fast forward to the end of October and the O’Briens’ apartment was packed up by the removalists and they had their suitcases and the furry kid travel crate at the ready to start the arduous family journey to Australia. “It was minus 10º in Changchun when we left and there’d been a few snowfalls to signal the start of winter. We got to Beijing and it was about five degrees (positively balmy!) and Molly’s shaggy winter coat had to go in preparation for her sojourn to Singapore where all year round it’s hot and wet, or hotter and wetter,” says Jody. “Emerging half her size and full of attitude, I’m sure she was thinking — ‘right, the house has been packed up — yep I’ve seen that before with the Smiths, and it looks like wherever the next house is, I’m going with them!’.”

“Our flight to Singapore needed to arrive in a time that was compatible with Singapore quarantine processing hours, so on a cold night in the Middle Kingdom capital, we watched from our boarding gate as Molly’s crate was the last item to go up the conveyor belt into our plane — and then like anxious parents, sat on the plane all the way to Singapore hoping that she was OK in the cargo hold.” Seven hours later, the O’Briens touched down in Singapore and made their way to the quarantine station. All of Molly’s transit to quarantine was organised by the pet agent.

“Like much of Singapore, the quarantine station and kennels was pristinely clean and organised, and it was staffed by people who genuinely liked animals,” says Jody. “Molly soon built a bond with her quarantine carer, Maxie, so much so that when we came back to get her out of quarantine four weeks later and move her to her Singaporean family home, she was a little confused about her loyalties. On the one paw she was overwhelmingly excited to see us, and on the other paw, she was anxious to reassure Maxie that she still loved him as well.

“Much to our delight and relief, Maxie had done an amazing job looking after her eyes and the humid environment had helped. While she still had the problem, the change in moisture in the air had certainly made a positive impact.” Molly had the same confusion when the O’Briens visited her at her Singapore family home. “She was excited to see us and always recognised who we were. However, because she was loved so much by everyone, it was as though she was always conscious of making sure no-one felt left out!”

The little girl in the family fostering Molly must had had the same affection to the little pup as she asked her mum, “If Molly’s mum and dad can’t take her, we can keep her can’t we Mum?” To which her mum replied, “Oh, I think with all the money and effort that Molly’s mum and dad have put into getting her back to Australia, she will definitely be leaving Singapore!”

Home safe and sound

Molly is happily now what the O’Briens affectionately call a “latte dog” — accompanying them when they are out and about in Melbourne. “Having spent much of her first few years indoors, she does love to get amongst it all, but draws the line at sitting on the concrete or dirt. We have to take the ‘latte mat’ with us that she happily sits or lays down on and watches the world go by, much to the amusement of her fellow diners or cafe hounds,” says Jody.

“It has been a bit of a change to going back to being a home-alone dog after having a houseful of people and a few other dogs in Singapore, however, she finds a comfy spot to settle into for the day, and we believe just snoozes the time away. Come 5.30−6pm when we get home — she is beside herself with excitement waiting by the back door for us to come in. Luckily, I get to work from home some days, so there are only a few days a week where she is left on her own.”

It is not only her lifestyle that has improved now that she lives in Australia. Molly’s eyes have improved significantly as well. “While the tear duct problem will always be there and her sight will always be like she is looking through scratchy dark sunglasses, we’ve been able to see an eye specialist vet in Melbourne who has got her on some great medication that is managing the situation really effectively,” says Jody.

The O’Briens don’t regret for one minute any of the time, effort and money they spent on getting Molly to Australia. “She is a constantly funny and engaging source of love and giggles in our lives and we couldn’t imagine it any other way,” says Jody. “We are yet to get ourselves a bicycle, but you can be sure that mine is going to have a Molly-friendly basket on the front.”

The costs to get Molly to Australia

When the O’Briens calculated all of their travel and logistics, together with all the associated agent fees, licences, quarantine and home-stay costs plus the incidentals, the whole Operation Molly Passport exercise would have cost them about $12,000. “Our friends in China couldn’t quite understand why we would go to so much trouble to keep her in our lives — they actually nicknamed her Ty-Gwee-Lah, which means ‘oh too much money’. Yes, it was an expensive exercise, but we never even gave it a second thought. We definitely get a return on our investment every day with unconditional love, a whole lot of laughs with the kooky hilarity that Schnauzers are renowned for and to know that Molly has hopefully another 10 or so years with us is worth every cent!” says Jody.

DAFF laws for transporting pets

  • China (not including Hong Kong and Macau) is not a DAFF-approved country. This means you cannot import a cat or dog to Australia directly from China (not including Hong Kong and Macau).
  • The importation of cats and dogs from a DAFF non-approved country can only occur indirectly via a DAFF-approved country.
  • If you intend to import cats and dogs indirectly via a DAFF-approved country, you must first contact the quarantine service in the DAFF-approved country to ensure cats and dogs are eligible for entry.
  • Cats and dogs must meet all of the pre- and post-entry quarantine requirements of the DAFF-approved country. Cats and dogs must be continuously resident in DAFF-approved country for a minimum of six months prior to export.
  • There are no exceptions to this requirement. Cats and dogs must meet all of the DAFF import conditions that apply to the DAFF-approved country before being eligible for import into Australia.
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One Response to Moving your pet overseas

  1. Yiyu Chen says:

    Your article was really helpful, I’m considering bring my dog from China to Melbourne, and it seems almost impossible to do that.
    Could you please let us know which dog sitting family and pet agent you used in Singapore? Thanks a lot!