Moving Countries with a Cat
Or: International pet relocation from Britain to the EU… unlike Holly Golightly, I didn’t plan to leave the cat behind when moving… continents. I was only moving across the English Channel, but it felt like a continent. For twelve years, we have had a little tortoiseshell cat. My then boyfriend and I adopted her from the Mayhew Animal home in North London in 2002, and she came to live with me when I moved into a house with garden three years ago.
When I moved back to Germany in 2014, there was no question that the cat would stay behind. So I meticulously planned a move – with cat. She was about sixteen years old by this time, and I wasn’t sure how she’d stomach an international pet relocation.
First, the vet. Although it’s within Europe, she had a rabies jab and a pet passport. For a one-way trip to Continental Europe, it isn’t strictly necessary, but for a return to the UK it is mandatory for a pet to have the passport and an up-to-date rabies vaccination. It cost about £120.
Then, transport. I was going to travel in my car with a few essentials, take up residence in the new apartment, start work, then move the rest of my household a few weeks later. So, air travel was out of the question.
There are several ferry companies. From the North of England, DFDS Seaways from Newcastle to Amsterdam or P&O from Hull to Rotterdam were options. A friend of mine had travelled on P&O with two dogs and two cats two months earlier and mentioned that it was straightforward. DFDS didn’t seem that straightforward regarding kennels, so I booked P&O. As I only booked a few days before the drive, I had to phone the ferry company up, booked a cabin and a kennel. The phone call took a few minutes and was very straightforward, the “cat space” was around £30 or £40, and I was advised to check in at least two hours early. I dusted off the cats transport box, gathered her basket, blankets, toys and bowls and bought a pheromone spray that the vet had recommended.
Then, the big day came, and I was totally dreading it. The cat hates car travel. How would she tolerate three hours by car, fifteen hours in a boat, then another ten hours? Besides this, I was horribly sad, not just to leave a life in England behind, but for relationships falling apart, uncertainties of a new job, an uncertain future… I left my home in tears with a Morrissey album on the stereo.
Arriving in Hull two hours later, I drove straight to one of the check-in windows. I handed over ticket print-out, cat passport and pointed at the transport basket where furry bit was just about visible. I was handed a special sticker, then I was told to pass the queue with hazard lights on and drive straight onto the boat, where I was waved into a section of the deck next to the kennels. There were two kennel sections: one already had loads of dogs in, the smaller one was still empty, and I was given a kennel in the “quiet” bit. The kennel was large enough to put Leia’s transport box, litter box and feeding bowls in, there was running water and clean bowls, and the kennel was spotlessly clean. Even Leia settled in and ate.
One the boat leaves, the kennels will get locked, but you can go an visit your pet. Which is a bit impractical at night, because you have to go to reception and someone from security will need to escort you. When I came back shortly before the kennels were locked, two rather quiet spaniels had taken up residence in the kennel furthest from Leia, other than that, she was the only cat on the crossing and it seemed people had taken care not to put noisy dogs next to her.
The ferry was okay, for humans too, not the lap of luxury, but sleepless because of the engine vibration and out of worry about the cat. When the kennels were opened again, Leia looked at me with big unhappy eyes and miaowed. I don’t think she’d had a great night either, but at least it was warm, secure and I was just happy to have her back.
The drive form Rotterdam to near Berlin went smoothly, despite me falling nearly asleep. The cat behaved impeccably, sleeping in her box most of the time and fed with her favourite snacks every so often. She slept at my mothers house, and the next day we tackled the last stage of our inter-country-move: a two hour drive to the new apartment. There was one hour of miaowing, then she settled – just like that.
That cat is a real trooper, despite her age. About eight months later, I travelled the other way round (this time, without cat), on DFDS Seaways this time. The ferry was a lot tattier than the P&O one last year, the cabin older, and very tatty. I didn’t check out the kennels.
And the cat? She still hates car travel, but other than that, she is just fine. Happy End.
Update 2018: Our beautiful kitty developed a nasal tumour and passed away in early 2017. She had a lovely sedate life for over two years after moving, living in a large apartment with no steps, and endless attention from not just one but two devotees. She lived to the grand old age of 19 and when we were ready for a new kitty, we adopted a lovely four-year old Siamese girl from a shelter, incidentally also named Leia. She was joined just a year later by Maite, a rescue cat from Estepona-Katzen in Southern Spain.