Back in October 2010, I wrote a post about the documents you need to re-enter the U.S. with your in-cabin dog. The CDC writes the rules for this situation, and they could be clearer. The CDC does not have any particular form in mind for the rabies certification incoming dogs are required to have. Similarly, if you’re continuing on a U.S. flight and your domestic carrier requires a general certificate of health, it’s not clear what that document should look like.
Reader Marianne faced this situation last fall when she contemplated returning to the U.S. from Ireland with Finn, her Miniature Poodle. They flew on Delta from Dublin to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Detroit. Here’s her report on how she handled it:
“The day we flew home, I took Finn for an hour-long walk, then he went into his carrier and we drove to the [Dublin] airport. The only ‘hassle’ was going from the check-in desk to the customer service desk to pay the $200 fee. No one looked at him, weighed or measured him. We got through security pretty easily (if I had not left my cell phone in my pocket, we would have gotten thru on the first pass!). As I was putting Finn back in the carrier, security asked me to wait a minute, then one of the officials came over and wanted to know if the airline knew I was bringing a dog! I showed him the receipt, and he sent me on my way.
Then came US Customs and Immigration [Dublin is one of the world’s airports where U.S. Customs has a border preclearance facility — you go through U.S. Customs at the airport, before you board your plane to the U.S.]. I was sent to agricultural inspection to have Finn checked out. They asked to see my paperwork. There was never any info on the US Customs page about paperwork, but I was prepared. I used my computer to make up a form showing Finn’s rabies information, his healthiness to be able to fly, signed by my vet, and a statement that I was the legal owner. I included a photo of Finn on the paperwork.
That seemed to satisfy them, but they took away the little bit of dog food I had, and one bag of treats. I pleaded that I needed treats to keep him happy on the flight, so they let me keep one of the bags if I promised to dispose of it when I got to the US.
I left and got ready to board the plane, without the paperwork — Customs kept it. I was worried about needing it for the Atlanta-Detroit segment, but was never asked for it at any time by anyone other than US Customs.”
I want to highlight a couple of things in Marianne’s message. First is the information she included in the document she created for her vet to sign — my contact at the CDC told me that the document should include a statement that your dog has been vaccinated against rabies (with the particulars of the vaccine used) on X date (which must be at least 30 days prior to re-entry), and it must be signed by a veterinarian. Marianne also had her vet sign a statement about Finn’s general health, and she included a statement of ownership and a photo of Finn. Given the vagueness of some airlines’ requirements for a general health certificate, that kind of thoroughness makes sense — the resulting document will work for both situations you expect to encounter.
My second point was made tacitly by Marianne: Make a couple of copies of your paperwork, so you have extras when and if the customs agent keeps a set. It doesn’t surprise me that Delta didn’t ask for Finn’s paperwork (per the airline’s website, “Delta does not require a health certificate for carried-on or checked pets”), but it is within the realm of the possible that someone else would have demanded it (the entire sentence from Delta’s site reads “While Delta does not require a health certificate for carried-on or checked pets, upon arrival, the certificate may be required by the state”). Indeed, it’s within the realm of the possible that a Delta agent, unfamiliar with his/her airline’s policy, might have asked for documentation.
Thanks so much, Marianne, for sending the details about your trip back to the U.S.! I hope Finn and Cookie, your Standard Poodle, have become friends by now.