Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Moving to Germany: Moo the Cat Comes with Me, Part 1

Moving to Germany: what to do with Moo?

When I first found out that I was going to move Germany, I realized that I had a huge dilemma: what would I do with my cat, Moo, who has been my companion for the last nine years and is considered part of the family and well known for his Moo antics? At first, I thought that I might need to leave him behind. I was really worried that he would be incredibly stressed from moving. He's a rather mellow cat, so I think that I would the one doing the stressing, but still, it was a definite concern.

There seemed to be many hurdles to overcome with bringing him; my main concern was finding an apartment that would allow him and a secondary concern was how on earth I would get him to Deutschland. After all, it's difficult enough to find an apartment in the States that allows pets; I couldn't imagine trying to find a place in a foreign country. I inquired with my friend/current landlady and initially she was willing to keep him, as she does love the critter very much. It was a difficult decision, but I felt like it would've been better for Moo not to have all the stress of moving, and let's be honest: I was originally relieved to have the stress lifted of trying to find a place and to transport him.

It would've been hard to leave behind my companion & yoga partner!

However, some things changed for my friend, and she was not able to take him after all. I felt a moment of panic, but I was also relieved. I would have missed Moo so much; he's been a sweet and cuddly companion for nine years. Plus, in the last six months we had to put down our family dog of 12 years as well as my horse I had owned for 10 years. It would've been really difficult to lose one more family member/animal in the same year (though it wouldn't have been as bad as him passing away, of course).

Jumping into problem solving mode, I started searching online to see how difficult it would be to find an apartment that would allow a cat.I was relieved to find that in Germany, it's a bit easier to find a place. There might be a pet deposit or the rent might be a bit higher, but it appears that there are more places that will allow a pet. I have heard that Germans are very fond of their pets, so maybe this is why. (An aside: people can often bring their well-behaved, leashed dogs into many restaurants, so that really takes enthusiasm for pets to a new level! I have never personally seen a dog in a restaurant in Germany, but I have seen one in a restaurant in Paris so the French must also be quite fond of their pets too.)

He even helps sort paperwork! He's a very helpful kitty.

After finding that it shouldn't be impossible to rent an apartment that allows a cat, I started researching what a person needs to do to when she wants to include her cat in her PCS, or, Permanent Change of Station (moving), as they say with my employer. Below I will list some of the steps that I have taken; they are up to date as of December 2012, but if you are planning to move your pet, be sure to also do your own research because things change and your situation may vary.

I will start with the steps that I took with arranging to bring my cat with me on the flight; I'll write about other aspects in subsequent blog posts because this will be loooooong!

1. Decide how your cat will be making his way to the new country. Basically, there are three main ways of doing this: bringing the cat as your carry-on baggage on your flight, having him ride in the cargo area of the plane during your flight, or having him shipped separately. The first two options aren't cheap, but the last option is probably the most expensive way of going; I believe that I read that one company charged $600! I chose the first option; the flight I am taking doesn't even allow animals in the cargo area because it's not climate controlled. I have heard some horror stories of animals dying in the cargo area because they weren't suited for the climate in it, but I haven't heard of this from anyone that had experienced this directly.

2. Be sure to book your cat's plane travel right away! Do it right when you book your flight, or immediately after. If you book online, depending on the airline, you might need to call the airline to amend your reservation to include your cat. Airlines limit how many pets are allowed in the cabin, for example, and these spots fill up quickly. I booked my flight ticket through my employer's travel agency right around Thanksgiving, and then it dawned on me that I needed to book travel for Moo, too. I thought that I had enough time because it was more than seven weeks before the flight, but I called Delta anyway. I was glad that I did! The flight only allowed four pets in the cabin for the flight, and Moo took the last spot. I would have been out of luck had I not reserved that space because the particular plane for that flight did not allow animals to fly in the cargo area.

3. Start preparing yourself for sticker shock for how much everything will cost to get your beloved furball overseas. Moo, as "carry-on luggage" (which I'm sure he isn't looking forward to!), is a crisp $200 fee for the international flight (which I booked on the phone but will pay for in person when I check in for the flight). That's grating on my nerves a bit because I'm going to have to stick him (inside his carrier) under the seat in front of me and consequently I won't have any legroom. Even worse, of course, is that he's going to be rather squished! It's crazy to have to pay $200 for this "privilege," but it is just something I'll have to accept (and by extension, he will, too -- poor Moo!).

4. Make sure that your pet, his carrier, and his accessories will meet all of the requirements for the flight, as well as those of the destination country. For example, some airlines have blackout dates when animals can't travel in the cargo area because of extreme temperatures. Some smooshed-face breeds have restrictions because of concerns of them being able to breathe. Particular breeds may be banned in your destination. Learn about this ahead of time to avoid major problems and heartbreak. There are many rules related to the carrier/cage, feeding the pet, tranquilizing him, etc. Check with your airline as well as with the Department of Agriculture. There are so many things to check; this is just a start! For example, certain types of pet crates are forbidden in the cargo area or you may have to replace the flimsy hardware on them with more substantial metal parts. Most airlines require that the animal be able to stand up and turn around freely without his head touching the top in the crate if he is being flown in the cargo area. For animals going as carry-on baggage, it's okay for their heads to touch the top of the carrier, but they still must be able to turn around in the carrier. The carrier must meet carry-on size requirements. Don't just go by the tag that says "airline approved." Actually check with your particular airline because their requirements vary.

5. Find out what you must do with the cat at the airport and on the flight. The first part of this would be to find out about TSA screening requirements, and definitely check their website for the latest information. At the time of my search, I learned that I must remove Moo from the carrier and walk through security with him. If I don't do that, I would have to take him in his carrier to a separate screening area to be checked. I'm not sure what that would entail so I'm going to put myself in peril of being scratched by a panicked cat and walk through security with him in arms. Being a smarty pants, I noted that it's unfortunate that I can't wear my coat and oven mitts to avoid being scratched, but that would probably be viewed as a security risk itself so I'll avoid doing that. The animal must be leashed during this process, which brings up another problem: metal on the animal's collar might set off the alarm. Thankfully, there is a way around this -- I bought a metal free harness and leash from a pet supply store that specializes in pet airline supplies (which I'll review in another post).

Once you get into the airport itself, it should be easier sailing. Just don't remove your animal from the carrier if you can avoid it. You won't be allowed to remove him during the flight, either, so avoid envisioning Fluffy chillin' on your lap as you wait for beverage service.


  1. Aww Moo is cute. Yes the Germans are pretty fond of their dogs. There are some places they aren't allowed, but it's not that unusual to see them in restaurants. I've never taken mine out to one though. It cost us $200 each to take our dogs also, but even the smallest (who was under 10 lbs) didn't have a small enough crate for the cabin so they both got to ride in the cargo hold. Might be something to look into next time.

  2. Thanks! I love my little Moo (well, he's 14 pounds, so not so "little!") I bought the large size Bergan carrier, and it's a somewhat tight fit for Moo but he can still turn around in it. Depending on the size of your dog, you might need a bigger carrier and then would need to see if your dog would fit.--ATW