Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | October 5, 2011

USDA Unapproved

 N 18° 04.67′ W 65° 47.8

Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico

I hate to give up, but I am throwing in the towel. The USDA wins this round.

One of the things I wish I had researched more thoroughly before leaving home was the dog entry requirements for all of our potential destinations. With so many things to think about and limited time, I was only able to plan for the first few countries we would visit. And even though some of those destinations – particularly the Bahamas – have a reputation for being difficult, our paperwork passed with flying colors.

Now that we are 6 months into our voyage and thinking about future destinations we are finding more cumbersome requirements. The French islands typically have simple regulations, requiring a vet health certificate and perhaps a current rabies vaccine. The British territory requirements are almost impossible for cruising boats to comply with, including having rabies antibody titre tests conducted in specified timeframes with government veterinary endorsements. Some require the pet to be shipped to the UK for quarantine prior to arrival. The Dutch countries are somewhere in the middle, with a few extra vaccination requirements and some requiring the government endorsement.

It seems almost impossible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” when you are traveling by boat and only intend to visit a country for a short time. It would be expensive and subject the poor dogs to many more tests and shots than they need. Our whole trip would revolve around vet visits and filling out forms.

A fellow sailor, veterinarian and member of the Seven Seas Cruising Association published a thoughtful article on managing pet regs while cruising in the Caribbean. From his information and a search of the requirements of future countries I came up with a core list of documents and tests to show a good faith effort to keep our pets healthy and comply with the regs as much as practical no matter where we are. One key recommendation was to get a USDA veterinary certificate endorsed by a USDA vet. Puerto Rico is our last opportunity to get the USDA approval, and we wanted to get that endorsement close to our departure time from PR.

Trying to get information from the Puerto Rico USDA office and the local veterinarians was a struggle mostly due to the unusual nature of our travel situation. It took phone calls, e-mails, website reviews, and finally a personal call on a vet office to get things started. We then spent yesterday afternoon at the vet, got the necessary tests and shots, and walked away with an updated health certificate and a signed – but not endorsed – USDA form. Yeah!

The next step was to get the US government vet in Puerto Rico to bless the form with his signature and stamp. Will that really make a difference in most of our destinations? Maybe not, since the form will be outdated by the time we arrive, but we thought let’s go for it. Stamps and official endorsements go a long way in some of these little countries. Nest stop, USDA office, San Juan.

Today we made the trip to the USDA office. They were pleasant and tried to help, but determined that the form could not be endorsed, even though the vet office had spent a great deal of time on the phone with them yesterday trying to properly fill in the various sections. My Florida mailing address was listed under the “owner/address” section, and they would not sign off on a Florida address. It must be a Puerto Rico address. Otherwise, the Florida government vet would need to process the form. Under “destination”, we had listed our potential itinerary. That would not work either, since their process it to hand off to one country within a 30 day period. If I go back to the vet and get a new form filled out with a Puerto Rico address and St. Martin listed as a 30 day destination then they agreed to endorse it, even though endorsement it is not required for entry to St. Martin. Sounded fair.

While I am so close and would really like to get that one in the “success” column, after consulting with the captain, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend another whole day, rent a car again, and make another trip to the vet and the USDA. The reality is that with the exception of a few places, we aren’t going to have all the documents in order anyway. The paperwork we have is beautiful, except for that one blank signature spot. In most cases we have heard that despite formal rules we won’t be asked any questions and the dogs won’t be a problem. And if the dogs aren’t welcome, then we move on.

So for one who was used to dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s” in my past life I am going to have to let it go, and adopt a looser and more practical mindset.  

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