How to adopt a foreign dog or cat

By: Yuki Hayashi

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©


How to adopt a foreign dog or cat

By: Yuki Hayashi
It's almost an adventure-tourism cliché: falling in love with an amazing local… cat or dog. Off-resort vacations often result in regular interactions with beach dogs or street cats. And spending a week or more in one place can lead to an amazing bond with a friendly animal. So why not bring your new pal back home to Canada? Adopting a foreign cat or dog is actually easier than you think. Here's how to do it.

1. Ask if the animal needs a home
Ask locals if the animal belongs to anyone. Even if it has a "regular" hangout such as a restaurant patio, it may not have a home.

Over the course of vacations in Central America and Asia, my family has fed many "pet" cats and dogs, only to be asked by their "owners" if we wanted to take the animal home with us – in one case, a litter of five puppies! Sometimes, a local animal lover may be caring for a homeless animal until it can find a good home – maybe yours.

Caveat: Air travel is stressful to animals.

"A lot of these pets will be travelling a fairly long distance. And these animals, who may not be used to kennels, will be in a carrier, in the loud, foreign environment of an airplane," says Dr. Jim Berry, vice-president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. "There could be flight delays, and during connections the pets will be offloaded and reloaded, possibly in heat or cold which they are not acclimated to."

The best candidates for travel are healthy, adult (not senior) cats and dogs, adds Berry, who is based in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

2. Consult a local vet or animal-welfare group

Their expertise in animal import/export regulations and paperwork can save you headaches.

In hot travel destination Phuket, Thailand, for instance, the non-profit Soi Dog Foundation, feeds, spays or neuters, and finds homes for street dogs and cats, both locally and internationally.

"We flew 15 dogs to new homes in Canada last year," including a three-legged pup named Barbie, says Cindy Amey, the group's volunteer dog adoption coordinator.

Page 1 of 4 -- Find Canada's pet import requirements, plus pet-friendly airlines on page 2.

Soi Dog Foundation helps travellers line up the necessary veterinary checkup, rabies vaccination, paperwork, and flight arrangements required to fly Fido to countries like Canada.

Canada's pet import requirements fall under the auspices of the National Animal Health Program established by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The Soi Dog Foundation site has concise adoption information by region, complete with cost estimates.

3. Check in with your airline
With enough notice you may be able to take your new pet home with you on your flight home, either with you in the aircraft cabin (as carry-on baggage provided the carrier is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you), or as checked baggage in the cargo compartment. Each airline has its own policies, so check with the airline as far in advance as possible. And visit for an airline-by-airline policy overview [].

Sometimes flying with your pet isn't possible, for example, if:

• your vet paperwork isn't ready;

• your airline isn't animal-friendly, or your current flight configuration involves too many connections; or

• cold or high temperatures could endanger an animal's health.

"Check your airline's time-of-year restrictions," says Berry. "Over or under a certain temperature, the airline won't fly them, so check to make sure you can fly at that time of year."

Whether your pet is flying home with you, or is flying in separately later, Dr. Berry recommends a "non-stop, direct flight, so the pet is loaded and unloaded only once." This is less stressful for them. (Animals should not be tranquilized or sedated, as this can jeopardize their health, says Dr. Berry.)

4. Arrange alternative transport, if necessary
If your pet can't fly out with you, you have two other options:

You can locate a "flight volunteer" to check the animal as accompanied baggage. Soi Dog Foundation, for instance, uses social media to locate flight volunteers. Typically, these are other vacationers heading home to a city not far from that of the foreign adopters.

Or, you can have the cat or dog fly as unaccompanied cargo. Again, a local contact is essential since you will need someone to take the animal to the airport and arrange the necessary vet clearance.

Marie Halfnights, who is from Vancouver, recently adopted Matilda, a former Thai street dog, with help from the Soi Dog Foundation.

"Matilda came [unaccompanied] via KLM. Soi Dog recommended KLM because they have the best animal reception centre in Amsterdam and take very good care of unaccompanied animals," says Halfnights.

Page 2 of 4 -- Before you can pick up your pet, you'll need to submit to an interview by Canada Border Services Agency. Find out which document can help make the process easier on page 3.

5. Entry into Canada
Before being released into your care, your new pet will undergo an airport inspection by a Canadian veterinarian. This is to ensure that your pet is disease-free, but the examination is not a full checkup. You will also be interviewed by the Canada Border Service Agency.

Halfnights was surprised by some of the questions they asked. "They really wanted me to put a dollar amount on Matilda's value, possibly because they were wondering if I was a breeder sneaking in a purebred for breeding purposes," she says. "They seemed to find it hard to believe Matilda was just a street dog."

A letter from the animal welfare organization that helped you adopt your pet, often aids in clarifying the situation.

6. Vet checkup
Your new pet should get a full physical checkup within 48 hours of arrival, says Berry, so book this in advance. Your vet will be on the lookout for things like heartworm, tick-borne diseases, parasites not native to Canada, soft-tissue injuries and fungal infections, and will provide additional vaccinations (rabies is the only entry vaccine requirement).

Once Fido or Tabby is home, let him or her settle in, in a safe and quiet room, as you would any new pet.

Although some disorientation is normal, call an emergency vet clinic as soon as possible if your pet experiences:

• extensive vomiting or diarrhea (anything that doesn't go away after two or three hours);

• "atypical lethargy, where a bouncy and active animal suddenly becomes quiet and depressed," says Dr. Berry; or

• no interest in food or water.

Related: How to understand what your pet is trying to tell you

Page 3 of 4 -- Foreign pets can have a tough time in a new home. Find out how to make it easier for them on page 4.

7. Enjoy and acclimate
Both cats and dogs need time to get used to a new climate.

Even if your new cat will be living exclusively indoors, she'll have a thinner coat and may be sensitive to air conditioning.

"Dogs from warmer climates usually have short hair and a thinner build, and will need winter protection like jackets and boots, at least until they get used to our climate, which will take one full season," says Berry. "They won't acclimate the winter they arrive, but then the next year's life cycle, they'll put on a heavier coat, though still need more protection" during colder days.

Halfnights says Matilda adapted well to a winter wardrobe of doggy sweaters. She's at ease in her new home.

Why didn't she adopt locally? Marie says she chose to adopt from Thailand (at a cost of approximately $1,500 in airfare and vet bills) because she was in a financial position to do so.

Related: How to foster a cat, dog or other animal

"Dogs in Canadian shelters are well treated and protected by large animal welfare agencies like the SPCA, but animals in developing countries aren't so lucky," she says. "Bringing Matilda to Canada allows Soi Dog to help another dog or cat. I'm so glad to have adopted Matilda -- she's changed my life for the better."

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How to adopt a foreign dog or cat