Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How I brought a cat to Ecuador from the US

So you want to take your cat to Ecuador?  It is easy to find conflicting or outdated information online about importing a cat to Ecuador.  Here is my experience in the Spring of 2011.

I have a 16 year old calico cat named Feisty.  I had a lot of fear and anxiety about bringing her to Cuenca, EC because I knew it would be a long trip, she is an OLDER cat, I did not know the process - it felt confusing and kind of overwhelming to sort out. Yet I love this cat and wanted her to be with us.
My husband and I talked over the pros and cons and decided to go for more information.

  Tip:  Be Sure You Both Agree to commit to this because it is not cheap or easy.  However, weigh the value of having the comfort of that pet with you (both for the pet and for you).

Timeline: January 2011 The journey really began with this decision in January 2011, with a departure date of May 1.
    Tip:  Be Sure to Use A Veterinarian Who Has An International Vet Certification

Feb 1, 2011
I began with a trip to our vet and blood work to see if the Dr U. thought Feisty could withstand the journey.  Feisty needed to be up on all vaccines.  The physical exam and blood work found no reason she could not withstand a long flight.  Due to her age, the vaccines were broken out to give part one week and part another week so that it would not overwhelm her system. She was also given benadryl and watched for several hours to be sure she managed the vaccines ok.  And she did, with flying colors. 

Feisty used to be a fierce hunter when we lived in the country and needed help with mice, voles, things like that. Her first 10 years were joyfully free and wild.  At age 10, we moved to a home in Portland area and she became an inside cat.  Surprisingly she did not object much at all.

Tip:  You DO NOT need to buy an international vet certificate.  The USDA will fax that to your vet upon request by them. 

March, 2011  Sorting out the deadlines and locations to make that all happen:
Now that Feisty had her vaccines, we asked our vet, who is a qualified international veterinarian, to get the forms from the USDA and fill them out ahead of time as much as possible.
We planned to move around May 1, so I set about buying the airline approved  pet carrier (Amazon had a great online price and quite a selection with free shipping of course). In March, I left the new carrier sitting out and open near the cat's fav spot, put treats in it to entice her to see it as a place that was not frightening. This went ok.  I bought a harness and new collar, as it turned out all unnecessary but we were prepared.

 Tip:  Check with the airline you plan to use regarding the approved airline carrier for your cat.  Also check on weight limits (it was 15 pounds max when I flew).   

Len researched what flights would work for us to give us the quickest route from Portland, OR to Cuenca, EC. It turned out to be best for us to fly Delta from Portland to Atlanta, a 6 hour layover, and then Delta direct to Guayaquil, arriving at 5 am.

Tip:  schedule your pet, much like getting a ticket for your pet, once you book your own tickets. Most international flights have a limit to how many pets may be in the cabin.  It seemed there are more restrictions during the summer so check that carefully.

You cannot fly with animals in the cabin within the country of Ecuador (at least in Spring of 2011) so we knew we would need to hire someone to drive us with our luggage and our cat to Cuenca.   We also learned that you have to get the sign off of the USDA within the state where you reside and then quickly send the international vet papers with that signature to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington DC to a specific person, Marco Farfan  (A VERY important name to know as this smooths things and all was returned on time).

April, 2011 We scheduled a date for the final exam and paper signing.  Within 10 days of your actual flight, the papers need to be completed and signed by 1) your vet, 2)  the USDA vet in your state and 3)  Dr Mark Farfan at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington D.C.
With Dr U, we also discussed sedatives - not a good idea as some pets die during the flight, somehow related to the sedative and the high altitude.  We knew we wanted to have Feisty onboard with us, under the seat in a little airline approved carrier. My friend Sully had traveled across country with her cats and noted they were quiet and hunkered down most of the way.  One of my fears was that Feisty would bother other passengers and we would be asked to move or something like that.  There is an absolute rule that you MAY NOT get the pet out of the carrier on board or even in an airport during the trip.  But talking to the pet and being close during this confusing trip is comforting to your pet.

Tip:  Be realistic about the probable cost.  We had no complications and expected it would all come to about $400.  When we arrived at the flight ticket counter, we found out that the price of her "ticket" was up by $100.  Other incidental costs brought the total to about $600.  Weigh that against the value to you of having that particular pet with you.  I personally could not, in good conscience, put a healthy pet down, and none of the people I knew were willing to take a 16 yer old cat on.  Plus I love this cat a TON!

In April, we began doing some short weekly test drives with Feisty in her new Delta approved carrier.  They went well. Feisty practiced her arias and we practiced patience.

May, 2011
As so often happens, a couple of  personal things had to be wrapped up so we could not fly until May 13th, which was ok, just moved our final vet visit  a little later,ti stat within that 10 day window.  This visit was to recheck the cat's health, to get the papers signed with all the duplicates and get on the road to the USDA office in Salem, OR.
We drove the papers to Salem, an hour away and back, to speed the process of the turn-around time.  We had an appointment scheduled in Salem and all went smoothly there.  It took about 20 minutes and we never even met the USDA vet.  The cost was nominal.

Now we quickly drove to the UPS office to send the papers to be signed and translated by the Ecuadorian Embassy, c/o Dr. Mark Farfan.  We used 1 day service and 2 days back, about $44.  One big anxiety was would the papers all be signed correctly and rushed back to us in time to board the plane Friday  at 8 am.  The papers were returned on Tuesday so there were 2 big sighs of relief at our house. Feisty was still oblivious to the impending journey of her life.

For weeks I had been packing and repacking things. trying to get the most stuff in but stay under the weight limit of 50# per bag.  Here are some tips about what to take if you have a cat:
Tip: Essentials you MUST pack!  Buy a disposable litter box at a place like Petco or PetSmart.  I placed the clean litter box right in the suitcase and filled it with various things: a small packet of dry food, 2 cans of wet food, a sandwich bag of kitty litter, a water and food bowl, an empty water bottle to get water at your destination or layovers to offer the cat
I also brought some treats from the pet store that were rated well online as helping animals to be relaxed with major issues like a plane ride (and ok'd by the Vet, Dr U). Feisty really liked those and it did seem to relax her.

Flight Day
As it turns out, the flight went amazingly smoothly.  With getting there early, all the connections and then driving to Cuenca from Guayaquil, Feisty was in that carrier box for well over 24 hours.  Feisty hunkered down and was very quiet most of the time.  When I tried to offer her water in Atlanta, she was not interested.  I was concerned so I stroked a little water on her hair, knowing she would lick it off.  That is the only hydration she took on the whole journey.

When we got to customs in Ecuador, an agent looked very carefully at the papers, the man asked me a couple of questions and waved us on through. Whew!

We then had a long wait and a harrowing ride in a taxi van to Cuenca.

When we finally arrived at our new cottage, Feisty came right out of her carrier, looking a bit gaunt.  But she set about exploring.  She was not scared or slinking as she did with her previous move.  She seemed to take it all in stride. It took a little while for all systems to be normal but there were no unusual problems.  She tried out that cup of cat litter right away.  And we set about locating litter and food for a cat in Cuenca.

  Another tip?  SuperMaxi grocery has both.

This story has a happy ending.  Our elderly cat has taken charge of our new home and runs the show, as any cat knows is proper.  I am comforted by having her every day.  My husband, who is not a "cat" person, says it was worth every penny because he sees how much connection Feisty and I have.

The Final Tip:  Please let me know if you have specific questions or I can be of help in moving a cat to Cuenca.       Sharon


  1. You have a beautiful cat. We left our pets in the states, a mutal decision, but they are with family, so that's good.

    Cuenca day 5

  2. Thanks so much for writing in so much detail Sharon. I have only recently decided I will be moving somewhere for retirement and am eyeing EC and perhaps Panama.

    I probably won't be able to move til I'm 65 which will be in 8 yrs, so not sure if I will still have kitty or not. I have 3 dogs and I'm pretty sure they will be in bone heaven by then, which is a sad thought.

    Anyway, it's just nice to know it can be done... and I thought all of your advance preparations and planning were really great and very thorough.

    Well done for you and Feisty!

    ps... I am enjoying reading your and Lenny's blogs... it's nice to see things thru the eyes of people who've just arrived. One question I have is, I know the expat population is relatively small compared to the ED and Quechua Indian populations... so how have you been treated so far as gringos? Did you know any other people before you moved? I'm just wondering if the local people are welcoming or if they view US or other retirees as an "oddity"? Thanks for any thoughts... Good luck to you. I studied cross cultural studies years ago and I know you guys are probably experiencing some culture shock... or maybe that comes a little later... but it passes... I'm sure you know all about that given how well your prepared to take your sweetie pie....

  3. Thanks, Carol. You ask a very good question. We have noticed that people (especially Quechua who are less expposed to "gringos") do look at us - we are light skinned and older - hard to blend in. However, they are not unfriendly, in my experience Just curious. I've found if I say a few of basic Spanish, such as just "Buenas dias, Senora" they light up and speak back.
    We did work on having a good "Cuenca mind set" as we call it. We did not want to be "ugly Americans" tramping on the host country's values and wanting this country to be a "mini-US experience". There are things that take getting used to. For instance, as others have written, manana means when it gets done, not necessarily tomorrow. But these are small things to us compared to having a life experience/adventure in a new culture/country/continent.
    I am not sugar coating things - there are dangerous areas, especially at night. Many pick pockets (who often turn out to be from another country) work the crowd at the markets. Other's have written about safe shoppin so I'll refer you to blogs I follow by 2 different Nancy's. But we have not experienced slurs or hostility. In fact the people of Cuenca seem unusually warm and welcoming to newcomers. We were fortunate to connect early with some wonderful Cuencana women who are friends and who have shared their homes and families with us in a most open, loving way. Incredible! Sharon

  4. A late reply to Susan, 2 comments above. Thank you for complimenting Feisty. She is a calico beauty.
    Leaving pets with new owners is difficult. We did that with 3 pets who just could not have lived here successfully. It was heart breaking. Yet we know each is in very good, loving hands so that helps. I have some knowledge of that struggle.
    It is painful at times to miss them yet bittersweet because they stabilty in their new homes. since yours are with family, perhaps you can visit.
    Have a great week.

  5. Hi Sharon... thanks for the reply. I am glad to hear that the locals are curious and welcoming... I am like you in that I want to be very respectful of their country and get to know them and the local culture... that is what international travel/living is all about to me... just my perspective.

    I have noticed that in Panama there are a lot of gated communities built by big developers... with mini-mansions separated from the local folks... to each their own, but that would not be for me. Of course I'd like some expat buds as well...

    I've studied Spanish in classes a few times, but by no means speak it fluently... just enough to barely get by.

    Since it appears most of the places I'm leaning toward are Spanish speaking, I'm going to start studying now so I will hopefully be semi-fluent in 8 yrs! I live in Santa Fe NM so there are many folks I can learns Spanish with.

    It sounds like you guys are really enjoying yourselves... and I love the finished cup quilt! Beautiful... and I can't wait to see what the yellow piece looks like...

    Enjoying your blog.... Carol

  6. One thing that appealed to us in Cuenca is that there are lots of places to live but not so many gated communities. There are some, certainly. I'll have to talk about that sometime. Thanks for writing. I hope you don't have to wait 8 years to retire but whenever you retire, I think you will find things that absorb and challenge you in new and wonderful ways.