A Cat’s Journey to Italy

Francesca, a California girl, made the long trip to Italy with flying colors.

Francesca, a California girl, made the long trip to Italy with flying colors, in spite of my anticipating otherwise.

One of the many considerations and practicalities you will need to tackle when planning the logistics of your to Italy is the relocation of your pets. If you’re really going to pull the trigger on either a long term stay in Italy, or a permanent relocation, you’ll have to do your due diligence in getting this figured out. Our cat’s journey to Italy was an adventure that began with extreme paranoia on my part….

Francesca is a feline beauty. Rescued from an animal shelter when she was 2 1/2 years old, Francesca came home to my apartment with “issues” – meaning she was 90% sweet, adorable, and loving. The other 10% was pure, wildcard craziness and unpredictability. I enjoyed my many nights of her cuddling up next to me. Such periods of togetherness kept luring me into a false security of a devoted “daughter” who would never hurt me. And, then she would “turn” at a moment’s notice, leaving me with deep bite marks or scratches…and usually a parting hiss, as if to underscore her sudden bad mood, and to remind me that I could never, ever, really let down my guard.

I share this so you can understand why I began losing sleep as the day approached that I would have to put her on a plane with me. Sure, there the were necessary examinations, approvals, and paperwork, but what I feared most was how I would get her through almost 24 hours of travel, from door-to-door, without needing plastic surgery to repair my shredded flesh. And, then there were the fears regarding my fellow passengers. My nerves are usually shot fairly quickly in the vicinity of a screaming baby on board. I could only imagine the impact on fellow travelers of a yowling cat.

Can you tell I was building a huge horror film in my head?

Let’s set all of that aside, for now, and talk about the logistics of taking a pet to Italy…

Yay! No quarantine!

Breathe a sigh of relief because there is no required quarantine for you pet (at least for cats and dogs) when you enter Italy, as long as you have all of your paperwork in order. And, said paperwork pertains to both the airline regulations for travel, and for customs when you enter Italy.

Check out this link for GoItaly.com for more information regarding the requirements, and so you can develop your checklist. You don’t want to arrive at the airport the day of travel missing a crucial, authorized document.

Vaccinations, an EU-compliant microchip, and flying with your pet.

You will be required, through documentation, to show that your pet has been vaccinated at least 30 days prior to your travel date. Rabies is the biggie, but other vaccinations may be required. Even with all of your research, it is BEST TO CONSULT WITH YOUR VET. Most vets are familiar with the whole process. In most, if not all states, once you have the signed paperwork from your vet, you have to go to the state veterinary office for their stamp/seal (which basically testifies that the vet who did the original paperwork is authorized).

If you focus only on what Italy requires for the documents and their timing, you could make a big mistake. You see, the airlines require that the paperwork is dated within 10 days of travel, and not sooner. I took Francesca for her final health assessment just 7 days before to give myself a little flexibility, just in case. For reference, you might want to check out this link to Delta.com for their specific restrictions.

One thing you will have to do with every cat or dog, is to make sure they have a microchip that is compliant and readable by the system here in Italy. Francesca already had a microchip, but it didn’t match the specs for Italy, so she now has two.

If you are flying with your pet, you’ll have to determine if he or she will travel with you in the cabin or in the cargo hold. If the airline approves travel in the cabin, your pet will need to be able to fit in a pet approved carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. Sometimes there are weight restrictions. Francesca, who was characterized by the vet as a “big girl” was on a diet for two months prior to her trip, to slim her down to just under 12 lbs. Book your flight in plenty of time to ensure you can book space for your pet, if you want them in the cabin with you. Most airlines allow only two in-cabin pets per flight.

Then there is the question of the cargo hold. Again, plan your itinerary carefully, and speak with the airline. Delta, for example, flies many Boeing aircrafts, and at the time I booked our travel, their Boeing aircraft did not feature pressurized cargo holds. So, my only option was to go the in-cabin option, since my routing was through New York, and I couldn’t avoid Boeing equipment. If I had wanted to put her in the cargo hold, I would have had to find an airline and flights that could have housed her in the cargo hold. But, I’m a loyal Delta flyer, and fortunately, Francesca was of the approved size (though barely) to travel with me. I preferred that anyway, even though I live in fear of her moods at times.

Also, if you are thinking of traveling business or first class, many, if not all seats in these classes do not have a space under the seat in front of you. Another thing to check with your airline.

If you have a larger pet, and the cargo hold is your only option, then be sure to consult with the airline regulations about tranquilizing your pet, if that is something you plan on doing. They have restrictions and documentation requirements around this as well.

Now back to Francesca’s particular trip to Italy. Being anal retentive, I had everything meticulously planned. I even gave myself time to try out prescribed sedatives. I’m glad I gave it a couple of test runs, because the first sedative made her a little loopy, but it heightened her paranoia. I’ve always believed she is a mind-reader, and I didn’t need her to be on a drug that enhanced those abilities. So, we landed on a low-dose Valium, which seemed to take the edge off. But, I was afraid of the morning I would need to get up at 3 a.m., sedate her and get her into her travel carrier. I was petrified she’d get into one of her unreachable spots, normally under the bed – but at this point in the move I was already sleeping on an air mattress, having sold my bed, so her go-to hideaway wasn’t possible. I got up that morning, took a shower, moving slowly, so as not to alarm her. I coaxed her into the kitchen with the promise of a middle-of-the-night snack. Her Valium was quickly gobbled up in a pill pocket, and I scooped her up and put her in her carrier. Whew….so far, so good.

With two big bags, my computer backpack, and Francesca, I had a car service pick me up and drive me to the airport. At the airport, all the paperwork passed muster, and then I just had to get through security. My biggest fear was that I would have to take her out of the carrier and walk through the scanning device with her my arms. I could picture her going wild, clawing me and then escaping into a crowded airport, with little chance of catching her. At this point, I must point out that I also had taken a sedative my doctor had prescribed. Take no chances, I thought.

Much to my delight, I was given the option of taking Francesca in her carrier to a little security room, where I would take her out of her carrier, while they scanned and checked it. Francesca, amazingly was very compliant –  thanks to the Valium. Just minutes later she was in her little “travel home” and we headed to the gate.

I won’t draw out the remainder of this adventure because it went incredibly well. For the 5 1/2 hour flight to JFK, there was nary a peep from Francesca, and even while we were in the Delta Sky Club in JFK during out layover, she remained mute and still. Then there was the packed flight to Rome, fortunately in Delta’s Economy Comfort, since those extra few inches saved my long legs because I couldn’t stretch them out under the seat in front of me.

Again, not a peep the entire flight. When we were disembarking in Rome, the two guys sitting next to me were shocked when I pulled out Francesca’s carrier. They had no idea a cat was traveling next to them. Good girl Franci.

The home stretch, after retrieving my bags, was getting through customs. I sought out a customs agent, explaining that I had a cat. He didn’t want to be bothered, and he pointed me to another gentleman, who in turn just said “Va bene.” (It’s fine) and waved me through. I didn’t know whether to be upset that they hadn’t looked at all the paperwork I had worked so hard to get or to be relieved because this was the perfect ending to a surprisingly smooth experience.

I hope my experience will help you in some small way as you plan your own trip with your beloved animal partner/s. Remember, if air travel with your animal intimidates you, you can take a slow boat, as a woman who now lives in Umbria, did with her dog.

In closing, I feel it’s important to reiterate the incredible benefits that our animal partners bring to us, emotionally and mentally. I believe Francesca has added years to my life. I also believe she has an incredible knack for bringing me back to the present moment. I encourage you to read the wonderful article at positivehealthwellness.com

All You Need to Know About Pets Improving Your Health

Disclaimer: These are my opinions based on my experience of bringing our cat to Italy, and in no way should serve a a substitution for your own research into how properly to relocate your pet.