Bringing Niko home

When we adopted Niko, we knew we’d eventually be bringing him home from Panama to Ireland. It was always going to be a complicated and expensive process. But, in the end, we checked him with Air France like a bag of golf clubs. This is how we did it…

After we’d had Niko for about a year, we started planning our move home; firstly to the UK and then onto Ireland. We had always known this would be on the cards, so I’d done some research. It was probably going to cost us more than it would have to buy any breed of dog here in Ireland, but that was just the way it was going to be. Niko’s not a pedigree, but he certainly has got a lot of papers!

We discovered that if we flew Air France from Panama to Paris, the dog could fly with us as excess baggage, a far cheaper option than having him shipped directly to London. From Paris, we could take a “Folkestone Pet Taxi” to bring us through the channel tunnel to the UK, where we wanted to spend a few weeks visiting family. Then we would just have to import him to Ireland which, because of Brexit, is still a bit tricky.

The first thing was to get him microchipped. Then he’d need all his vaccines re-administered and recorded to that chip. He’d need a new rabies vaccine, then 3 months later, a blood test to prove he had the right antibodies. This test would be processed in the USA and take up to 3 months. Altogether, the process would take nearly 6 months – ages, but far better than having to let the dog suffer a lengthy quarantine period.

I met lovely Marla Paul from Pets Go Global. Her company usually offers a full service package relocating the pet from door to door. But, they also can just sort out the paperwork, which was all we needed. Her confidence and expertise was very reassuring. I couldn’t bear the idea of arriving at the airport with 3 kids in the middle of an international relocation and not having the correct bit of paper to get the dog onto the plane!   

I think these are the various bits of paper we needed, but I have to admit the details have got a bit foggy, so if you’re attempting to do the same trip – ask Marla at Pets Go Global!

Bringing a dog out of Panama

  • An official exit permit from the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Pet health certificate stamped by the Ministry of Health.

Bringing a dog into France

  • Niko’s up to date vaccination record including a recent rabies vaccination. Also all recorded to his microchip.
  • Rabies Antibody Test proving he has the correct antibodies 3 months after the vaccination – also known as Favn report or “Rabies Titre” test.
  • Health check and Vaccine Veterinary Certification, issued 9 days before our arrival in France.
  • Proof of tapeworm treatment given 24-48 hours before arrival.
  • French Annexe Certificate “Certificate Sanitaire” written in French.

Bringing a dog into the UK

  • UK Animal Health Certificate.

Bringing a dog into Ireland

  • New UK Animal Health Certificate, issued in England, as we were going to be there for a few weeks.
  • Proof of Tapeworm treatment (as entering the EU).

The Journey

The morning of our flight came and we were all packed up and ready to go. As we’d been advised, we didn’t give Niko any food that morning and took him for a quick walk. We got a mini bus taxi to the airport; 8 suitcases, a huge dog crate and 5 people! We walked in with all our luggage, the dog crate and Niko on a lead.  Then, we all checked in, Niko included! To my huge relief, the paperwork was all in order. Then, we walked Niko to the oversized baggage area and got him into his crate, which he was very used to by then.

And off he went! He looked pretty worried as his crate rattled away from his down the conveyor belt. We all waved and called to him, and I burst into tears of relief! I’d been so worried that we would be missing some crucial bit of paper and it would all go wrong. That was all 3 hours before our 11 hour flight, so it was a full 14 hours before we would see him again.

As we settled into our flight and I tucked into my 3rd glass of wine, I asked our flight attendant if she could see if the dog was ok. She said that while she couldn’t visit him, she could check on the temperature of the area where he was traveling. She came back and told me he was at a “toasty 20°C”! 20°C? Toasty? The temperature in Panama never drops below about 28°C so that must have felt pretty chilly to him!

When we arrived in Paris, we found the baggage collection area and… there Niko was in his crate! He was crazily happy to see us and started throwing himself around in his box. We quickly let him out and he was fine, mercifully not covered in poo or wee, just very, very thirsty. We had some bottled water from the flight with us and he drank a whole bottle of evian in one go!

Meeting Niko at the airport in Paris.

Then, with our 8 suitcases, 5 rucksacks, 2 trolleys, 3 dazed kids and one hyper dog on a lead trying to trip us all up, we staggered out of the airport. We eventually found our taxi driver, a friendly Afghani guy from Folkestone Pet Taxi. Soon we were on our way in his mini van. Niko snuggled up on my feet and never took his eyes off me.

At the euro-tunnel, we stopped at the kiosk for checking in pets. I had a whole huge file of paperwork with me, quite expecting this to be tricky. To my joy, the lady just scanned Niko’s microchip, which thankfully made the correct beep, and then wished us “bon voyage”! We got back into our taxi which drove onto the train. 30 minutes later we popped up in Folkestone.

Niko in the channel tunnel.

Bringing Niko Home to Ireland

After a lovely few weeks visiting family in England, we drove to Pembroke Dock in Wales to catch the ferry to Rosslare, Ireland and drive home to Wicklow. We travelled with Irish Ferries, and Niko stayed in the car on the car deck for the 3 hour trip. He was fine. On a subsequent trip, I did discover that as soon as the ferry starts moving, literally all the car alarms go off. There are signs everywhere telling people not to leave alarms on, but it seems everyone forgets in the rush to get aboard and grab the best seats. The alarms make a hell of a racket. The dogs must hate the noise, particularly as the alarm for their cars are probably sounding too!

For this last leg of travel, all Niko needed was a new Animal Health certificate issued by a UK vet, and proof of tapeworm treatment within 5 days of travel. When we arrived in Ireland, we did have to show this, but the guy just glanced at it and waved us on. Niko made it to Ireland!

Niko in the Secret Valley, looking towards The Sugar Loaf, County Wicklow, Ireland.

Settling into Ireland

Now Niko’s been living in Ireland for 9 months. We’ve just had a very cold snowy winter. He’s got some funny jumpers and coats but doesn’t seem to really need any of it, he’s adapted brilliantly to being here and this spring just loved zooming around in the snow.

Recently, I ran the London Marathon, and Niko ran every inch of my training with me, quadrupling my distances zooming around back and forth off the lead on forest tracks. He’s pretty good at coming back when I whistle, though he has run off a couple of times after deer, once getting lost for hours. If we have to cross a stream or river on a metal bridge, I have to pick him up and carry him across. He goes absolutely rigid with fear. Does he really think I have brought him all this way to now just throw him in?

Adopting Niko was easy. Taking the time to let him get used to us was hard. The paperwork and expense of bringing him home to Ireland was excruciating.  But overall, he has been absolutely worth all of it.

There are a million mangy yellow mutts like Niko all over the world, and thousands just like him on the streets of Panama. We used to play “dingo bingo” on car journeys when we lived there; you got a point if you saw a dog that looked like Niko on your side of the road, with an extra point if it had it’s face in the bins or was itching his fleas. But, in Ireland, there’s not many dogs that look like Niko. When people ask me what breed he is, I am very proud to tell them he is a pure Panamanian “tinacaro”. That’s a Spanish slang term for street dog, which translates literally as bin face.

He’s the best little bin-face in the world and we all love him to bits.    


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