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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Moving pets abroad has always been expensive. It’s about to get worse.



In an undated photo from Melissa Abell, Viking and Xena, Melissa Abell’s dogs. Abell estimates she will spend nearly $8,000 to move her five pets from Louisville, Ky., to London this September. (Melissa Abell via The New York Times)

By Derrick Bryson Taylor


Melissa Abell will do anything for her family, including making the kinds of financial sacrifices that most people would not consider.


To fly her family — a small but loyal troop of one German shepherd, one Australian kelpie and three cats — from Louisville, Kentucky, to London this September, it will cost Abell countless hours of research, loads of paperwork and an estimated $4,300 just in cargo fees. To help save for it, she is cutting a range of costs, including reducing bills, eliminating meals out and forgoing certain entertainment.


Despite her efforts, Abell is worried that price tag may increase.


IAG Cargo, the cargo-handling arm of multiple airlines that Abell is using to transport her animals, recently announced it was raising its prices along some routes beginning March 1. The move is drawing ire and panic from pet owners with plans to relocate, particularly to and from Britain and the United States.


The increase, which could triple or even quadruple costs for some travelers, may force some pet owners to choose between paying higher prices to relocate their pets or leaving them behind.


“To reflect the complexities of this bespoke service and the cost of providing the very best care for pets” traveling as cargo, “we have made some amendments to our prices,” a spokesperson for IAG Cargo said in a statement Wednesday.


Details around the new pricing structures and affected routes were unclear, but some companies that work with IAG Cargo were already seeing the effects. Kimberley Cirone, a director at Pets Abroad UK, a pet relocation company that takes care of all the requirements for customers and works with airlines, said the costs for transferring pets between Britain and the United States were increasing 400% “with no warning, no consideration, no explanation.”


Cirone, who was notified of the cost increase last week, said customers would begin feeling the squeeze on their wallets in a few weeks. Before the increases, shipping a cat or a small dog using her company’s services would cost about 1,200 British pounds, or about $1,500, Cirone said. Now that price has risen to 3,500 pounds, or about $4,400.


Owners of larger dogs will feel an even bigger pinch. To fly a Labrador now might cost 3,000 pounds, Cirone said. “With the new tariff,” she said, “you’re looking closer to 11,000 to 12,000 pounds,” or about $15,000.


Shipping live animals from one country to another is a lengthy and complex task. Because requirements can vary based on the animal, the airline and the destination, pet owners often hire shipping agents to help them navigate the process.


Owners must first decide if their animals are eligible to fly in the cabin or if they must be stowed in the hold, said Markus Ruediger, a spokesperson for the International Air Transportation Association. Pet owners are then required to compile all of the necessary customs and health certifications for the countries of departure and destination.


After landing, animals pass through customs, and owners may be required to pay taxes, depending on the destination. Some animals may also be inspected by veterinary authorities. “The recommendation is definitely plan as early as possible,” Ruediger said. “Don’t plan to fly from New York to Europe tomorrow and take your dog without any earlier preparation, because that probably will not work.”


Back in Kentucky, Abell, 47, a student with plans to study human biology at the University of Glasgow this fall, said she received three different quotes from animal movers to transport her pets, ranging as high $10,500.


She chose to navigate the process herself, but when she is finished with all of the necessary preparations — receiving health certificates, blood testing, purchasing kennels for each animal and more — she estimates her total costs will be just under $8,000.


“I have little choice,” Abell said. “Either pay what they charge or pay more with an animal shipper. But it’s still expensive.” She is also worried that the $4,300 she was quoted for cargo fees from IAG Cargo will jump significantly after the price increase.


Dean Faulkner, director of Silver Birch Pet Jets, a company based in England that helps with pet transportation mostly for military personnel, questioned why IAG Cargo did not consult with pet moving agencies.


“Over the last few days, we have had so many difficult conversations with families who have already booked flights for the future, that will now see the costs go through the roof,” Faulkner said.


He said that U.S. and U.K. military personnel would suffer the most from the price increases because of the short time frame of the assignments they are given.


“For families where the costs are too expensive, their pets are at risk of being rehomed,” he said.


Despite the challenges and potential rising costs, Abell is moving full steam ahead with her move, pets and all.


Once she lands in London in September, she will make her way through customs and retrieve her animals, a process that she estimates may take up to seven hours. She’ll then drive about 400 miles from London to Glasgow, Scotland.


“To me, they’re my kids,” Abell said as her dogs barked in the background. “When I adopt and they cross my threshold, they stay with me. That’s a rule that I’ve established over countless years of having animals. I never bring in more than I can afford.”

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