Danny Tsai (蔡明智), who works in IT and his wife, Rebeca Chuang (莊淑芬), an accountant, love their dogs. They, like many other dog owners in Taiwan, regard their mutts as part of the family and are loath to part with them when they travel overseas. One and a half years ago, they decided to do something about it and established Pet Tour (信華事業). Since then, they have led three tours to different parts of Japan. Pet Tour also handles the shipment of pets to countries around the world. “It started out from a personal need,” Tsai said, “but then it grew from there.”
Moving pets across international borders has long been problematic, primarily due to a lack of uniform international guidelines. Every country has different entry requirements for pets as do international airlines — some enforcing blanket bans on pets, others allowing small animals to accompany their owners in the cabin.
“It is necessary to do a lot of homework before you can even contemplate taking pets overseas,” Tsai said, “and there is little margin for error.” In many cases, if difficulties arise over paperwork when entering a country, the animal may face immediate deportation, extended quarantine or destruction by the authorities, options that would be traumatic for any pet owner on vacation.
In the UK, the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) was introduced in February 2000 to allow pet dogs, cats and ferrets from certain countries to enter the UK without going through quarantine. It also allows pets to visit EU nations and return to the UK without undergoing quarantine, as long as they meet a list of detailed requirements. The program has been gradually extended and in December 2002 the mainland US and Canada joined. This scheme has helped those animal lovers in the UK who want to take their pets with them on holiday.
Taiwan’s quarantine regulations (English and Chinese):
getting past the red tape
There is, as yet, no such help for pet owners in Taiwan. Daniel Cheng (鄭烜), a Taiwanese national who took his two long-haired dachshunds with him when relocating to Japan, said the local authorities were generally very helpful, but required owners to coordinate paperwork from numerous agencies in Taiwan and at the destination.
The whole process needs to start long before the scheduled travel dates. In the case of dogs, proof of immunization and a chip that meets the requirements of the destination country are basic requirement.
After this, there follows a lengthy process of health checks, validation of these health checks by the authorities in the destination country and the issuing of an import permit. In the case of visiting Japan, the process for ensuring a smooth journey must begin at least 40 days before departure. “It is definitely not something you can do on the spur of the moment,” Tsai said, adding that Pet Tour trips to Japan close bookings two months before the departure date.
Nevertheless, improved procedures and a growing belief that pets are part of the family have seen a huge increase in the number of animals passing through Taiwan’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (動植物防疫檢疫局), Council of Agriculture (農委會). Dog exports have increased from 1,711 in 2003 to 4,363 last year. Cat exports have increased from 340 to 530 over the same period of time.
“It’s not just the dogs that need to be sorted out,” Tsai said about organizing tours. “Owners also have to be educated. They need to know that traveling with a pet is a very different experience from simply looking after their dog at home. Most people only spend a couple of hours a day together with their pet — they need to go to work and so on. But when traveling together, they are with their pet 24 hours a day for the whole duration of the holiday.” In the case of Pet Tours, these trips are usually about four to five days.