Pets in the US

Bringing your Pet to the US

The import of all animals and birds into the US is subject to health, quarantine, agriculture, wildlife and customs regulations. Pets, particularly dogs, cats and turtles, must be examined at the first port of entry for possible evidence of disease that can be transmitted to humans. Pets excluded from entry must be re-exported or destroyed.

Dogs, cats and turtles may be imported free of duty, although duty may be payable on other pets, the value of which can be included in your customs exemption if they accompany you and aren’t for resale.

Dogs must be vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days before their entry into the US. Exceptions are puppies less than three months old and dogs originating or located for six months or longer in areas designated by the Public Health Service as being rabies-free. All domestic cats must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to man when examined at the port of entry and vaccination against rabies isn’t required (though it is highly recommended). Birds must be quarantined upon arrival for at least 30 days in a facility operated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the owner’s expense.

For regulations concerning the import of other animals, contact your local US embassy or consulate or write to the US Public Health Service, Center for Disease Control, Foreign Quarantine Program, Atlanta, GA 30333 (404-639-3311, www.os.dhhs.gov/phs  ). A leaflet, Pets, Wildlife: US Customs, is available from the US Customs and Border Protection Service, Office of Public Information, PO Box 7407, NW, Washington, DC 20229 (202-927-1770, www.cbp.gov ). The publication number is 0000-0509 and it can be downloaded from the Travel section of the CBP website.

Health Certificates

If you’re travelling with pets within the continental US, they must have a valid Interstate Health Certificate and be fully vaccinated (documentation is required). All but four states require dogs to be inoculated against rabies and some also require it for cats. To take a dog, cat or bird to Alaska or Hawaii, you need a valid Interstate Health Certificate, signed by an accredited veterinarian and issued no more than ten days before shipping.

Hawaii has strict anti-rabies laws and all dogs and cats (including those from the continental US) must be quarantined for 120 days, with the exception of those coming from a rabies-free area (e.g. Australia, the UK and New Zealand). Alaska requires a written statement from a veterinarian certifying that your pet is free of rabies. Further information about interstate pet transportation can be obtained from the USDA’s information hotline ( 202-720-2791) or in the Travel section of the USDA website (www.usda.gov ).

Mexico and the US enforce stringent regulations regarding pets, and visitors to Mexico usually find it more convenient to leave their pets at veterinary boarding facilities in the US. When pets are taken into Mexico and returned to the US, owners must present a rabies vaccination certificate dated not less than one month or more than 12 months previously. A booklet, Traveling With Your Pet, is available from the ASPCA and contains inoculation requirements by territory and country.

You can take your dog or cat to a veterinary surgeon for a course of vaccinations, some of which (e.g. rabies) are mandatory. Some municipalities provide free rabies shots for cats and dogs. After vaccination, your pet must wear a rabies tag attached to its collar. (In most areas, all dogs are required to wear collars and those without are considered to be strays.) If you live in a rabies area, don’t let your pets run free and don’t allow your children to play with or approach strange or wild animals.

If you’re bitten by an unknown animal, you may require a series of anti-rabies injections. You can also take your dog or cat to a vet for neutering (recommended by the ASPCA), the cost of which varies according to the region and the vet. Shop around and compare veterinarian fees. It’s possible to take out health insurance for your pets in order to reduce veterinary bills.

The American Animal Hospital Association (800-883-6301, www.healthypet.com ) provides help in finding vets near your home. Tattooing of dogs and cats for identification purposes isn’t commonly done (except for valuable show animals), although the ASPCA encourages the use of a small tattoo at the site of the incision to identify neutered animals. Chipping (the insertion of a small electronic chip under the skin) is also not commonly used, except for pedigree pets or those likely to travel overseas to countries where chipping is more commonly used.

Special regulations

Many Americans aren’t content with just keeping a cat or a dog like ‘normal’ people, but keep exotic pets such as leopards, cougars or boa constrictors. Although most states have strict regulations regarding the keeping of wild animals as pets, many Americans keep them illegally, particularly in Florida, one of the main gateways for the import of illegal animals. Note also the following:

  • Many municipalities and cities require cats and dogs to have a licence, usually costing around $10 per year (possibly less if an animal has been neutered). Licensing may depend on a pet’s age. Proof of rabies vaccination may be required to obtain a licence and the license is normally in the form of a small tag that must be worn on the animal’s collar whenever they’re outside. Check with your local town hall or city clerk.
  • It’s illegal not to clear up after your dog (you can be fined). Take a ‘poop-scoop’ and a plastic bag with you when walking your dog. Dog excrement is called ‘doodie’ or ‘doo-doo’ in polite circles.
  • Cities and large towns have professional dog walkers who walk your dog for around $10 per hour.
  • With the exception of guide (Seeing Eye) dogs, which may travel on trains and buses free of charge, dogs aren’t allowed on public transport or in most restaurants and shopping centres.
  • Many cities have strict leash laws and pets may not be permitted on beaches (or must be kept on a leash).
  • Many apartments and rented accommodation have regulations forbidding the keeping of dogs and other animals (cats are usually accepted). The number of cats and dogs per residence may also be limited (by number or by combined weight), and large animals such as horses may be prohibited (particularly in condos). The internet site of the Humane Society of the US (www.rentwithpets.org ) includes information on moving with pets and a list of rental accommodation which allows pets.
  • Most major cities and towns have animal hospitals and clinics, and individuals and organisations in many areas operate sanctuaries for injured or orphaned wild animals and abandoned pets. However, using an animal hospital may be much more expensive than going to a local vet. Many cities and towns have animal shelters where you can obtain a stray dog free of charge. Animal shelters usually require that you have the dog neutered.
  • Your vet will arrange to collect and cremate the body of a dead pet (for a fee), although you may bury a dead pet in your garden in some areas. There are many commercial pet cemeteries, where the pets of the rich and famous are given a send-off befitting their privileged position in life.

Animal lovers can join the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY 10128-6804 (212-876-7700, www.aspca.org  ). The ASPCA campaigns vigorously against the killing of wildlife and the destruction of their habitats and publishes a wealth of free information for pet owners.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in America. Click here to get a copy now.

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