*Because “How to schedule a microchip appointment, negotiate with crabby Belgian veterinarians, stamp kitten passports and drive your cats for 6.5 hours” was not as attractive a post name…
Good thing these little guys are cute because bringing cats into the UK is tricky business.
To bring a cat into the UK from mainland Europe, they need to be micro-chipped and have rabies shots. You then need to wait for 21 days before they can get a certificate of good health in their kitty passports. So back in November, D made an appointment at a Belgian veterinary clinic to kick the process off. The vet’s office was packed so I took that to be a good sign. Until the vet assumed that D and I were married so he registered the cats under D’s name. And I was taking them to the UK alone.
Challenge #1: Convince UK border authorities my cats are really mine when their microchip says otherwise.
The vet gave them their rabies shots. He filled out some fancy new cat passports for them (dark blue, European flags on them… they might not be biometric but they had more lines to fill out than in my own passport.) To confirm that I had the process right, I asked the vet if we could get an appointment 21 days later for the certificate of health. And that’s when he told me that in Belgium, the rules say you have to wait 31 days after vaccination to move a pet. I hesitated. “Well, I’m moving them out of Belgium… so if the UK says 21 days, isn’t that good enough?” Nope. He would not give me a “certificate of good health” for the cats unless I waited 31 days. Which would be smack in the middle of my trip home to the States for Christmas.
Challenge #2: Bribe friends and boyfriend to keep cats even longer than they already have.
With that news, we got back in the car and drove home, looking though our new kitten passports. And that’s when D noticed the vet had stamped them to say they got the shots on December 22nd. But it was November 22nd.
I called the vet the next morning to check and he gave me that condescending doctor tone which is made even more delightful once translated into an old school French Belgian accent “mais non, Madame, je n’ai pas fait d’erreur.” He insisted he had not made a mistake… Until the next morning when he called back, didn’t apologize of course, but encouraged me to come back in so could wait in his waiting room for 45 minutes and he could “amend” the date in the passport…
Challenge #3: Keep confidence in chauvinistic Belgian vet you no longer trust.
Fast forward a few months and it was finally time to bring them to the UK. You cannot bring cats over on the Eurostar and I have enough trouble navigating myself through airport security let-alone two cats, so I opted to drive over and drive them back. I rented a car in London and booked some tickets to take the Eurotunnel (you drive your car onto a train which takes you under the English Channel – Americans like to brag about innovation but this is honestly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.)
I would pick up the car on Friday and drive to Brussels. We would get their health certificates filled out on Saturday morning and give them some anti-worm pills (which the Belgian vet insisted they needed) before waiting a final 48 hours before I could bring them across the border. Easy as pie.
Challenge #4: Cue English car rental fiasco.
Friday morning. 8:30am. I head down to Bayswater to pick up my rental car. I watch as a couple before me is helped by a really nice man behind the counter. They were headed to Bath for the day and he was asking them all sorts of helpful questions and giving them tips about where to get fuel afterwards. I walk up expecting the same. He sees my passport and asks if and where I live in the UK. I answered that I’d lived here for almost 4 months and gave him my address. And that’s when it started:
Car man: “Your address is coming up as fraudulent.”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
Car man: “Your address is coming up as fraudulent.”
Me: “What does that even mean??”
He explained that they use a private database system to check addresses and that my address wasn’t coming up in his system. I tried to argue that I was paying with an English bank card and that to get one of those required an address and was also like breaking into Fort Knox so could he just trust me on this one? He had my passport, credit card and driving license, what else did he really need? He told me he simply could not give me the car I had pre-paid for unless I went home and got a bank statement or utility bill that had been posted to my home address to prove I lived where I said I lived.
Challenge #5: Ignore temptation to change entire story and say I am a tourist. Also ignore temptation to reach over the counter and strangle him. Also ignore temptation to cry on the bus back home feeling like you are an untrustworthy foreigner.
It took me an hour and a half to catch the bus back home, get the documents he’d asked for and make it back, at which point all of the extra time I’d allotted myself to pack for the weekend was gone. Fast forward a few hours of non-stop swearing as I navigated the streets of London for the first time in a British car (I’m used to driving on the right) and I made it to the English coast with only ten minutes to spare.
We brought the cats back to the vet on Saturday morning. He wrote my name in next to D’s so it would look like they were actually my cats. He gave us pills which took 24 hours to get the cats to swallow (cheese…cheese solves everything…) And then this morning I bribed the little ones into their cat carrier and we were off.
Challenge #6: Survive having two cats in a car for 6.5 hours
The little cat meowed her face off for the entire length of Belgium and France to Calais. The bigger cat smushed himself into the carrier and gave me a martyr’s look for the entire trip. As I pulled up to the pet inspection unit at the Eurotunnel terminal in France, I had a feeling of dread that something else would go wrong.
But it didn’t.
They were absolutely lovely. They checked the passports and had me “scan the cats” for their microchips (its like searching for gold on a beach except you are essentially x-raying your cats’ shoulders). Then the official told me there was no need to wait 31 days or give them the de-worming pills (proving my suspicions about that Belgian vet.)
Driving back into London was incredible. My trusty little iPhone app (CoPilot – it is brilliant) took me on a route that had me drive right past the Houses of Parliament and alongside Buckingham Palace. As brainwashed myself not to panic about driving along those famous streets I’d only ever walked before, I tried to convince the cats this was all worth the trip. They of course weren’t having any of it.
Now I am watching the cats settle down in my London flat. They have already lay claim to the bedroom window where they can look over the gardens below. They’ve had their first meals and are taking their first naps.They already want to scratch the carpeting on the stairs.
And it was all worth it.