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the big everyday adventures of a little dog – Oscar moves from Mexico to the US, then to Britain

Once upon a few posts ago, I introduced ‘Oscar-the-dog’ in his coming-home story, then in another post the story of his abduction and eventual return home. When Oscar was 18 months old, we (that’s his humans, me and Ian), decided to move to London.

Oscar's always the first ready to go

Oscar’s always the first ready to go

There was never any doubt on our part – Oscar was coming with us. He is part of our family and household. We made the decision in September and began the immigration paper work – both human and canine.

Oscar’s immigration Mexico to the US

Oscar was easy, and per usual when we travel, he was the first ready to go. With few of his own clothes, most of his packing usually amounts to dog food, a few toys and a blanket. In terms of actual travel, all that was required from Mexico to the US was to have his immunisation documentation reviewed by an airport vet and we paid $25 (USD) for his transport.

The humans’ immigration paper work for Britain took three months, applying twice, including twice paying the application fee (all in all about $1,000 USD), and the luck of the universe.

one of the important papers returned by the postal inspector (thank you, universe)

one of the important papers returned by the postal inspector (thank you, universe)

Our first application was rejected because we failed to dot our ‘i’s, cross our ‘t’s and tick the correct box under past work experience. Our successful second application package (including our passports and all the official and legalised documents) was returned to us in stroke of good luck by a postal inspector double-checking the accuracy of the ‘return to sender, named recipient not at address’ stamp a colleague had slapped on the envelope.

These valuable documents had ended up in the ordinary postal system (twice) because both times the Home Office had ignored our request to return the paperwork by DHL courier, even though we’d pre-paid and included the return envelope with our application. But never mind, finally, we were all ready to go!

We arrived in San Francisco at 11am on 25 November. Our first technical stop.

California: ex-territorio mexicano, perfect immigration limbo space for a Mexican hound bound for ol'blighty!

California: ‘ex-territorio mexicano’, the perfect immigration limbo place for a Mexican hound bound for Old Blighty

Immigration paper work from the US to Britain

Travelling from the US to Britain was a bit more complicated for all of us. We immigrated on ‘Highly Skilled Migrants visas’ which meant a stop over in our country of birth to some final ‘i’s dotting and ‘t’s crossing, paying more money, getting more photos, and having our ‘highly skilled migrants’ visas affixed to our passports.

Oscar's passport

Oscar’s passport

The British authorities were a bit more fussy about Oscar’s immigration paperwork. In his case he had to prove he didn’t have rabies. Rabies is unknown in Britain and they are keen to keep it that way. In 2001 the European Union introduced the Pet Travel Passport, which allows animals to travel easily between member countries without undergoing quarantine. Fortunately by the time Oscar was moving, this agreement was also extended to other countries like the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The pet passport procedure is simple, but the steps have to be done in a specific sequence. The animal has to be mico-chipped, to ensure its identity. Microchips, about the size of a grain of rice, are implanted just under the skin, usually between the shoulder blades, and use radio frequency to transmit a series of numbers and letters unique to that chip.

Then the pet is given a rabies vaccination and 6 months later blood work is done to prove a rabies-free status. Mexico was not included in this agreement at the time, so the plan was to leave Oscar in the US with Ian’s family during the waiting period.

Saving time and money south of the border

... la frontera ...

our plan was sound and aimed at ease but became painful

In Mexico soon after making the decision to move, we had Oscar micro-chipped, with our reliable and steady veterinarian Dr Cortes. Dr Cortes recommended an ISO-standard micro-chip since Oscar was to be an international dog, and gave him the rabies vaccination. When the waiting period was over in six months, Oscar’s blood test would be done in the US, and then he’d fly (at nearly 1,000 times the cost of the Mexico-US flight for some bizarre reason) to London.

He needed to be under the care of a vet though to be signed off as healthy and ready to fly, so we took him to a nearby clinic that Ian’s family had used for the family dog, Maggie, they had had when he was growing up.

This is when it started going wrong. While ‘the experts’ made mistakes, I also take responsibility for initially failing to double-check ‘the experts’ too were dotting their ‘i’s, crossing their ‘t’s. But once I learned, this would not happen again.

The first mistake of many …

I allowed the vet's prejudice to cloud my judgement

I allowed the vet’s prejudice to cloud my judgement

Our first mistake was joining in the doubt-fest about the professionalism of Dr Cortes. I don’t know why, but when the smiley California vet took at look at Oscar’s Mexican paperwork and wondered – ‘what if the rabies vaccine he’d been given in Mexico, wasn’t, well, you know, up-to-date or the real thing? A lot irregularities, pirated goods and fake merchandise can be found in Mexico … ‘ – we were swayed.

While she was saying this and waving the micro-chip wand over the dog to read his chip, we convinced ourselves it was a good idea to do the rabies vaccination again and start all the paperwork under the care of the smiley California vet.

Our second mistake happened this day too, but we wouldn’t realise it until more than a year later. We never double checked the number the micro-chip reader had detected. It was simply waved over the dog, a number came up and we all sighed relief – ‘good, the chip is still there’ – as they have been known to fail or fall out, and his ISO number was copied onto his new file from the Mexican file.

June 2006, no micro-chip, no travel

Seven months later when we were settled and had a place Oscar could call home, his foster family prepared him for his flight. The day before he went to the vet to have his blood test certified, his

dry tears and start again

dry tears and start again

micro-chip checked and his final medical review clearing him for travel. On that day, they could not find a micro-chip. He looked like the same dog, acted like the same dog, but without verification by micro-chip that he was the same dog, his ability to travel was in jeopardy. It could be, the vet clinic said, that their micro-chip readers was failing, so his carers took him to two more clinics to be checked out, but no luck. No micro-chip. No travel.

We cancelled his ticket, dried our tears and accepted that we’d have to start the process all again. So at the California smiley vet’s clinic Oscar was micro-chipped again, he had another rabies vaccination and we sat down to wait another six months.

February 2007, finally Oscar’s coming! Or is he?

a magic wand is needed to read the micro-chip

a magic wand is needed to read the micro-chip

Finally in February 2007, 14 months after we’d left him in California, we were preparing again for his arrival. Same drill, but with more care, a few days before flying, he went to the vet to have his blood test certified, his micro-chip checked and his final medical review clearing him for travel.

And on that day, they could not (at first) find the second US micro-chip, but the first one (the ISO standard) came up in the reader! The clinic then realised that the summer past, when they first prepared Oscar for travel, they had used a micro-chip reader that is only for US-type chips. The new wand that day, had a setting which could be switched to detect ISO chips or US-type chips and had been set to ISO. Switching it to the US-chip setting, they then found the second chip. Hurrah.

taking no chances

We were taking no chances this time on anything going wrong. So we also asked the smiley vet to send us copies of the paperwork that would accompany the dog so we could check they’d dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s. And would you believe, we discovered they hadn’t!

In the second batch of papers associated with his blood test, a number from his mirco-chip was mistakenly recorded as a ‘D’ where a number ‘0’ (zero) should have been, so all his paperwork was attached to a nonexisitent chip. ‘Oh

no, now what?’ I wondered.

'D' is not the same as '0' zero

‘D’ is not the same as ‘0’ zero

I immediately called the DEFRA office at the airport (DEFRA is the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, the body overseeing animals’ import to Britain) to see what their opinion of the situation would be. Could they accept a ‘D’ where a zero should be?

The vet answering the phone that day said that the situation was ‘iffy’ and asked if Oscar have any other identification. Tearful, exasperated but steady, I told her the whole story about Mexico and Dr Cortes, the smiley vet in California, starting the passport procedure again, then their first mistake with the ‘lost chip’ and now a year later this administrative error and the next challenge it posed.

The DEFRA vet listened patiently and seemed kind, helpful. She asked me to send her copies of all of Oscar’s documentation that I had. She gave me her name and fax number. I was not exactly hopeful, but I was relieved to have someone in authority say something other than ‘sorry, no can do, go back to the starting point’. I also vaguely wondered what she’d make of the Mexican paperwork, all in Spanish of course, but I compiled everything we had. When I was about to send it, I realised the vet, ‘for the attention of Dr Dolors, pet import section’, might be a greater ally than I realised. Dolors is the Catalan equivalent of Dolores, which also meant most likely she was a Spanish-speaker.

patching the paperwork together across continents and languages

I called the next day, what did Dr Dolors advise? She had gone through the file and could see the paper trail and had evidence of what I had told her and she said: Oscar’s first set of papers attached to the ISO chip were fine, but out of date. The second set was all good, but the number attached to the blood work was wrong, and yes, it could be a source of delay in getting Oscar through immigration.

Dr Cortes's clinic

Dr Cortes’s clinic

She proposed calling Dr Cortes to ask him for a letter stating Oscar’s history at his clinic, including the micro-chipping and rabies vaccination in September 2006, and asking the California vet for a letter stating Oscar has the two micro-chips and acknowleging their administrative error. She’d then take all these plus the documentation that I’d already sent her to a panel of colleagues for review. If they accepted this patchy yet healthy trail of paperwork, he could come.

So we jumped through all these hoops … and the panel said yes!

Dr Dolors also advised at the soonest possibility that we get Oscar to a British vet and get his European passport issued, because no one else was ever going to understand this mismash of papers as a legal document to travel.

home sweet home, Belsham Street 2007

home sweet home, Belsham Street 2007

So on 23 February 2007, we both took the day off of work and went to the DEFRA airport animal reception centre (with a big box of chocolate for Dr Dolors and colleagues) and were finally re-united with Oscar-the-dog, who began his new adventures here on ‘fantasy island’. More about these in another post soon.

Oscar's passport, note his documentation is done under the ISO-chip number, hurrah for sensible Dr Cortes

Oscar’s passport, note his documentation is done under the ISO-chip number, hurrah for sensible Dr Cortes

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pages from another world:  oscar-moving 24/05/15

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