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Travel Stress-free With Pets

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Military moves can be tough on military families, especially if a spouse is deployed. It's hard enough to get the humans in the family ready for a big move, let alone a family pet.

"Growing up as an Army ‘brat,' I moved every three years from state to state and to Europe and back twice," Kari Mendoza, owner of Island Pet Movers in Hawaii, told me. "We always had pets and our parents taught us that pets are part of the family.

"I served four years in the Navy," she added, "and I can tell you it was hard to find an apartment off-base that would allow me to take my cat, but giving him up was never an option."

Fortunately, many resources are available to ensure your pet stays with your military family and isn't surrendered to a shelter, or given away.

A first step is to go online and research the pet policies at your next duty station. A quick call to your sponsor, family-service center or veterinarian at the next installation can help you better understand pet policies in housing, animal laws in that state or country, pet-friendly hotels and any transport requirements. For example, many states and countries are considered "rabies-free," so you may have to start the process of preparing to ship your family pet several months in advance.  

Now that you have fully researched information such as applicable breed bans and base pet policies, consider calling local airlines to see if there are flight restrictions for your pet, including months when your pet is restricted from flight. For example, some dogs have respiratory issues due to the structure of their face, making breathing at sea-level difficult.

Because of these restrictions, many airlines impose a "pet embargo" on certain dog breeds between May 15 and Sept. 15, which means you will have to ship your pet outside of this time frame. A visit to the airline's pet transport Web page should give you information such as cabin temperature, weight requirements, approved airline crates, and what stickers and labels should be on the carrier.

Since all pets are transported for hours, or even more than a day, in a crate, it's a must that all military pets are crate trained. It can take months to get an animal adjusted to the crate environment, and will be the best way to ensure the animal doesn't get stressed in transport.

Air Mobility Command offers space-available flight, commonly known as Space-A travel, for pets, but you may only take two pets and a 14-day travel window is required. Space-A is a service that allows military service members, their families and service retirees fill seats on military air transport flights that otherwise would be left empty. Some duty stations don't fly commercial airliners, so you can only book these flights to a destination that has these capabilities.

Are your certificates in order?  Two are provided by military veterinarians. The first is a veterinary health certificate, DD 2209, which must be issued within 10 days of your departure. It's advisable to schedule the pet's flights a few days before yours so that if there is a last-minute issue, you are there to take the animal back.

The second documentation is a rabies vaccination certificate, DD 2208. The rabies certificate is issued at least 30 days prior to your departure, but in some states it can't be more than a year old. It's best to research the policies in the state or country to ensure the required documentation is in order.

When you reach your destination, or if your pet must be quarantined, you may be able to get some money reimbursed. Check with your personnel office to find out more about this opportunity. Finally, check with your tax-filing office to see if some of your pet-moving expenses can be written off when filing income taxes. 

For more detailed information, visit Military OneSource. They have numerous checklists and samples of a military pet care plan. Another great resource is your military legal office, where you can include the family pet in your will and power-of-attorney forms. As with any other member of your family, it's best to always be prepared for the unexpected when caring for your pet, a lifetime commitment.

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