You are on holiday soaking up the sun somewhere in the Mediterranean and you fall in love with that street cat or kitten you have been feeding. Can you rescue it from certain starvation once the tourist season ends? Can you take it home with you? Is that even possible? Well the answer is yes, quite easily to most European countries, but unfortunately with much more difficulty if you happen to live in one of the four countries that currently make up the UK.
A European pet passport should allow you to take your pet anywhere in Europe. To obtain a European pet passport the first step is to have the cat micro chipped. Then the cat must be vaccinated against rabies and have a vet check 24 hours before travel. Many airlines will allow you to fly home with your cat in the cabin with you for a relatively small additional charge (e.g. 50 euros on Aegean). The cat plus carry basket has to weigh under 8kg. So long as the cat’s passport is in order you should not experience any problems with security leaving the country of origin or with passport control on arrival at your destination.
Unfortunately for me and our adoptee, Naomi, getting home to Scotland was not so straightforward. Naomi was born to a feral mother in a car park in a village on the Greek Island of Syros. She was trapped at the age of six months by Syros Cats, a charitable organisation that helps the stray cats of Syros, as part of a regular TNR (trap, neuter, return) programme. She was not returned as she needed treated with antibiotics. When my partner and I arrived as volunteers in Spring 2017 one of our jobs was to try and tempt her into the house in order to administer said antibiotics. Naomi quickly realised that a night indoors enjoying the comfort of our duvet was an acceptable pay off. Needless to say, we bonded. On our return in Autumn 2017 Naomi quickly re established our nighttime routine. In the daytime she made herself scarce, not being a cat that enjoys colony life. We decided we had to try and take her home with us.
We had flights booked from Syros to Athens and from Athens to Edinburgh. Since it is not possible to fly a pet from Athens in to Edinburgh (even in the hold) we changed mine (at considerable expense) from Athens to Amsterdam. We paid 20 Euros to fly Naomi with us in the cabin from Syros to Athens. When we had to walk across the tarmac she was pretty terrified by the noise of the propellors, but managed the flight well. We had an overnight in a hotel in Athens and then set off early the next morning. Security in Athens was a challenge. Security staff wanted us to take Naomi out of her cat carrier in the middle of the security hall so that they could put the carrier through the security machine. We stood our ground and eventually got taken to a small enclosed cabin, It would have been much safer and less stressful if Naomi had been wearing a cat harness but unfortunately we had not been able to get one on her despite numerous attempts. The one we have bought for her since we got her home has velcro rather than buckle fastenings and is a much better design than anything we could buy in Syros. Indeed, she seems to feel secure when she’s wearing it.
After much deliberation the cat carrier we chose for Naomi was a soft design with a shoulder strap. She seemed to find it comforting that I could hold her against me and it left my hands free to manage passports and tickets etc. It was large enough for her to be able to stand up and turn around in it yet small enough for her to feel very secure. We covered it with a blanket when in transit. The flight from Athens to Amsterdam was uneventful. I had Naomi in her carrier at my feet for most of the way, only picking her up when she started to cry as we came in to land. I found an accessible toilet this side of customs and was able to let her out in order to use her litter tray, which she obligingly did. She had a drink but did not want to eat. Looking up I saw the ceiling was not secure, I could see the ventilation shafts, so I hurriedly put her back in her carrier. (photo)
Checking with a customs official as to which lane I should go through, I was delighted to be told that as Naomi had a European passport I was welcome in the Netherlands and did not need to declare her. I had a few hours to kill before heading by train and bus to Hoek van Holland for the overnight ferry. I found a quiet seating area in the Sheraton Hotel where nobody bothered us.
At the ferry terminal in Hoek van Holland there is a member of staff responsible for checking each animal’s papers are in order to enter UK. I just about cried tears of relief when we got the green card – approval for her to enter. (photo) This is the only ferry you can take from the continent of Europe in to the UK with a pet if you are not travelling in a car. Unfortunately it goes to Harwich, a port in South East England. Tough luck if you are trying to get to Scotland! (Had we had a car we could have gone from Amsterdam to Newcastle with Naomi left in the car during the journey.)
I had been dreading having to leave Naomi overnight in a kennel on the ferry. As it turned out my fears were unfounded. There are two sound proofed kennels. Although it was a very busy time of year, the staff did their best to separate dogs and cats. Naomi ended up in the kennel with other cats and two golden retrievers, the least likely dogs to bark! I was able to regularly check on the CCTV channel on the television in my cabin and Naomi’s kennel was silent all night.
Early next morning my wonderful cousin, Jill Davidson, met us at Harwich. Jill had driven from her home in Suffolk for nearly two hours through horrendous weather conditions and then drove us for another hour and a half to my mother’s in Hertfordshire. The ferry is supposed to connect to a train to London but the trains were cancelled the morning we arrived. We spent a couple of days recovering at my mother’s before taking the train from London to Edinburgh. At Edinburgh we were met by my partner and driven an hour to our home in Stirling.
I am happy to report that Naomi has settled well and seems to be thoroughly enjoying her new life in Scotland. As a fluffy black cat even some days here have been too warm for her so goodness knows how she coped in the summer in Syros! We have no regrets at all about having adopted her, despite the journey and costs involved.