Furry ties that bind

2008-11-13 00:00

In recent years emigration from South Africa has increased drastically. The hassle of packing up your entire life and family can be a distressing time. For pet owners this distress can be intensified dramatically.

Pet emigration is a costly affair and taking animals with them is not always an option for emigrants. And if they can afford it, it’s not a simple process.

In certain countries such as Australia, it is mandatory for pets who immigrate to undergo a battery of vaccinations and blood tests. They have to be quarantined (in kennels away from their owners) for a minimum of seven months. The pet also has to be approved by a veterinarian as being fit and able to travel.

If the pet is highly strung or becomes stressed when travelling even short distances, the trauma that this animal will undergo in the moving process may do more harm than good.

A local vet who did not wish to be named will be moving to Australia in the next month and shares his story.

The vet has five pets (two dogs and three cats) and can only take four of them with him. He has to leave one of the cats behind because “she is highly strung and won’t do well with travelling”. He was lucky to find her a new home with friends.

The remaining four animals have been placed in a kennel that specialises in emigration for their seven-month quarantine period. Keringa Kennels assists owners, not only by housing and looking after pets of people who are emigrating, but also with the entire emigration process — sorting out their visas, permits and clean bill of health certificates.

Before he placed his pets in the kennels they had to have rabies, leptospirosis and ehrlichia shots. Twenty-one days after administration of these vaccinations the pets had blood tests done which revealed that they had responded well to the medication and were disease-free.

The vet says that parting with his animals for this lengthy period has not only been difficult for the animals and his family, it has also been a costly affair.

He has had to pay R160 000 to have his four pets quarantined and flown over to Australia where they have to remain in quarantine kennels for at least a month.

The vet says that it’s not easy for his animals to be away from him but believes that they will emerge from the ordeal unaffected.

“The kennel owners have done a very good job and have been very helpful,” he says.

Eve Hemming, an educational psychologist and Witness columnist, moved to New Zealand three months ago. She was the owner of four dogs which she did not take with her.

“I believe that process is tough as the animals are put in quarantine for six months and it can cost as much as R25 000 to take one pet overseas, which for me would be criminal when there are so many impoverished people around.

“But of course it is a very personal choice and depends on one’s income. Also I think that it can be justified if it is a psychological means of helping the children to settle in a new country,” says Hemming.

Some countries have laws re-stricting the types of animals that they are willing to accept. Keith and Belinda Goddard are bird lovers. They have 12 parrots and changed their mind about emigrating to New Zealand because of stringent laws prohibiting exotic animals, such as birds and snakes coming into the country. Standing with their peach-faced love bird Buffy, the Goddards said that they are still interested in emigrating but that they are looking into countries that are more “bird friendly”.

Rehoming an animal with new owners is also not an easy task. Experts say that it’s important that homes are found where pet rules are similar to those in the pets’ former homes in order to minimise stress. For older animals, especially, this rehoming can be very difficult, even if the rules are similar.

“Saying goodbye to pets, whether they are old ones that need to go to heaven or younger ones that need rehoming is tough,” says Hemming, who said that she opted not to go the SPCA route as she felt that it was imperative to meet the family who adopted her dogs, as well as see their home.

“For that reason a personal advert was important so that we could elicit the correct response from an equally dog-loving family,” says Hemming.

Hemming found homes for three of her four dogs and was lucky that all the new owners resided in the area where they lived — Hilton.

Then there is the decision to have your animal euthanased. This is not an easy decision but may very well be the best one you can make for your pet.

Maureen Vida, SPCA manager and spokeswoman, encourages people to “put their animals down” rather than try to rehome them or leave them at the SPCA hoping that the organisation will do it for them.

“Emigration is the reason for four out of every 10 dog and cat adoptions at the SPCA,” says Vida. It becomes increasingly difficult to find homes for pets the more populated the SPCA becomes and the older the pets are, she says.

“We try to rehome animals but there is no guarantee,” says Vida. The SPCA has a policy that tries to rehome pets that are five years old and younger. “It is very difficult to rehome older dogs and cats,” she says. These animals are used to their owners, the property that they grew up on, they often don’t do well psychologically and mentally, and struggle to get on with other dogs or cats at the SPCA.

Hemming’s fourth dog was 13 years old. Gypsy, an “adorable” Staffy, had severe arthritis and was developing senile dementia.

“It was terribly hard for my husband, who took her to the vet and wept as Gypsy quietly went limp. I didn’t even have the courage to go with him and just held her that morning feeling the lovely soft textured fur under her neck and front.

“We sat on the veranda and it was a poignant moment that I won’t easily forget. I chatted softly to her and thanked her for being the most loyal pet we had ever had and for being our son’s best friend for many years when he was growing up,” says Hemming.

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