Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Perro's Perils, Day 4: America Held Hostage

We'd hoped to abandon out saturation coverage of the perro’s teeth-cleaning - there are other important stories that need our attention: for instance, the American conspiracy to cheat Mexico out of her Guinness World Record for Largest Enchilada; or the coronation of Querétaro's Christmas Queen later this evening - but this longish perro-post might be of interest to anyone bringing a pet in and out of the country – and we’d be very interested in your feedback.

For the rest of you, here’s a rare pic of the perro flying economy class:

Having received assurances that it was safe to return to Querétaro, we boarded a plane in Boston this morning. After 10 hours and 2500 miles stuffed inside a travel bag, the perro finally touched down at Querétaro “International” Airport last night, and sniffed the warm, dry air of freedom. A quick pass through immigration, then over the to baggage conveyer, and then – strictly a formality! – a trip to the Customs desk to inform them that we’re “importing livestock.” Done it a dozen times before – just hand them the travel certificate from the vet, and we’re on our way.

“No, this isn’t what I need,” the Customs Guy says. “I need a travel certificate and import documents from the US.”

Clearly, there was some misunderstanding, probably stemming from the four bloody marys we’d consumed in-flight. For years, we’ve been bring the perro to the US with a travel certificate from our Mexican vet, which is generally valid for 30 days. Since the perro never stayed for 30 days in the US, we always returned to Mexico on the same certificate – a certificate issued, as we just said, by a local, Querétaro veterinarian, attesting to the fact that as of 13 days ago the perro was completely healthy, fully vaccinated, and parasite-free.

We have done this repeatedly, and have been admitted every time, without fail.

“No, I’m sorry,” Customs Guy smiles, “but the law says that to bring a pet into Mexico you must present this” – and here he pulls out two documents that we’ll discuss in a minute, but at this point in the story the important thing is that we don't have them – “otherwise, we'll have to keep him here until you can pay to have a veterinarian come out and examine him and certify that he’s okay to enter the country.” Something that we would conservatively estimate would take three days.

Longtime readers of this blog will be familiar with this animal's serious, DSM-IV-verified psychological issues, chief among them a tendency towards cardiac-arrest-level episodes of separation anxiety (a quick trip to the bathroom at Logan Airport precipitated a howling fit that almost got us kicked out of the Continental lounge, despite the fact I had left him with my wife) - and that's when he's at his best. Factor in some serious oral discomfort, his need for three different medicines over the next five days, and the fact that, thanks to the anesthesia, he hasn't taken a shit since Monday, and suddenly we're sizing up the security situation, wondering which soldier's gun might be the easiest to grab.

And it's 9PM. And everything's closed. And there are no flights leaving back to the US. And there's no one to go over Customs Guy's head to. And it's clear he isn't fishing for a bribe.

"I don't care what has happened the other times you have come in with him. They weren't following the rules. I am following the rules." He'd been newly transferred here from Zacatecas. There's a new sheriff in town.

We explained as politely as possible that we weren't say that he was wrong - God, no! It's just that the fact that we have done it this way on a dozen previous occasions had somehow given us the mistaken impression we had been doing it correctly all along.

At this point, because we did have at least some kind of documentation, including six pages of bills from the vet up in Boston ("very expensive!" he says), and because he basically just took pity on us, Customs Guy agreed to let us in, pending the completion of a bunch of forms, which would take half an hour.

In other words, problem solved! But we still had a lot of questions, which we asked as politely as possible, because our ability to fuck ourselves hard by continuing to speak when we should just be quiet is legendary.

What Customs Guy wanted was Form 7001 from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is pretty much the standard international travel certificate, and which can only be filled in by an APHIS-certified vet. We got one of these when we first "imported" him into Mexico in 2006, but these are only valid for a few weeks, so going home and bringing ours back was not an option.

But additionally, after the vet completes your form, it must be sent to the USDA to be "endorsed" and stamped. According to

5. Depending on where your state veterinary service office is, you can either go into the office in person to obtain the endorsement or you can send it in via FedEx. If you are going to take your documents in, you will want to call about a week in advance to make sure they will allow you to come in and to make an appointment. If you are sending your paperwork in, you will need to include some sort of payment information. The USDA does not take checks. You might consider writing a coversheet with your contact information instructing them to call for a credit card number. Also, keep in mind that if you do not include a return envelope, the USDA will send it back via US Postal Service. If you need your paperwork returned sooner (which most people do), include a pre-addressed FedEx overnight envelope with your paperwork. The USDA typically will stamp documents on the same day or the following day after they receive them.

So we're basically talking about a week-long process here. The second document that Customs Guy showed us (which in retrospect we wish we had read more closely) appeared to be a letter on APHIS stationery attesting to the authenticity of the APHIS stamp on the travel certificate.

Contrast this with the process of getting the perro into the United States - a country that takes a rather, shall we say, conservative approach to admitting living beings through its southern border. Without even examining him, the Mexican vet wrote up a brief letter listing the perro's vital stats, ending with "the animal is healthy enough to travel." When we realized we had misplaced his rabies vaccination certificate, he simply gave us another one, affixing the seals from the batch of vaccine he had on hand, rather than the one actually administered six months ago. This passed muster with Customs and Border Patrol in Houston, though they did confiscate a baggie full of dry dog food (from Wal-Mart!) on the grounds that it might contain animal blood.

When we pointed out this disparity, the Customs Guy mutter vaguely about some "convention" the US and Mexico had signed, though we have a hard time believing this.

If we had been visiting the US for a month or more, or had spent a lot of time on a working farm, the scene last night might make sense. (Customs Guy specifically mentioned Mad Cow Disease as a concern. Easy jokes about my English spouse aside, we feel confident that my parents' yard in suburban Massachusetts is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy-free.) But these requirements, if enforced, essentially make a short trip out of the country impossible. A week-long visit to the family would largely be spent acquiring documentation for the perro's return, which probably wouldn't arrive in time. Even if we skipped the USDA certification, it would still require a full-priced US vet exam - just days after the Mexican exam. And according to this page that Customs Guy referred us to, all vaccines have to have been administered in the past 12 months, despite the fact that many vaccines - such as rabies - are good for three years.

Lastly, and most maddeningly, the way Customs Guy was planning to rectify our mistake last night was to imprison the perro until such time as we could get our Mexican vet to come give him a clean bill of health - in other words, to come and give us the exact letter we were already holding in our hands when the shit hit the fan.

We're guessing that if you've bothered to read to the end of this post, you've possibly brought an animal into Mexico yourself. Any advice, comments or feedback would be appreciated. Probably nine times out of ten we'd be able to bullshit our way through this, but if they ever decided to hold him for the night, his head would literally explode.

    Postscript: After all this, Customs Guy looks at our luggage, asks us if we have anything we shouldn't, and then waves us out the door without inspection. We did in fact have a bag of cooked carrots for the perro that we expected to have confiscated. We're now going to toss them in a nearby field in the hopes that they carry some alien fungus that will lead to massive crop failures and widespread famine. At which point, in a later post, we'll publish Custom Guy's full name and badge number.


John Olson said...

Wow! My adivse? Just drive to Mexico, and drive out again. My mejor amigo Sarge and I have driven over the border and back dozens of times. I carry a file on Sarge that contains every vet bill and shot he's ever had. We've never had any customs cabron on either side of the chingada frontera ask us so much as a single word beyond "Is this your dog?" Drive next time!

Burro Hall said...

As much as I'm sure you're right about this, I was hoping for a suggestion that wouldn't add ten days of driving to a quick visit home.

Dave said...

Wow, Just wow. Welcome home. Seems like everyone should be ready for a long rest. Hope you can figure out how to not go through all that again.

Ziggy Bombanuts said...

In my simplistic world I would do my best to find the Customs Guys jefe and start over with him, mentioning the Custums guy let the dog in on a promise. ;)

Ziggy Bombanuts said...

You did get home with the perro, didn't you?

Jan said...

My dogs stay home w/dog-sitting house-minders, and yes, they miss the special treats-of-me. I like living in Mexico with it's low cost-effective medical and grooming care so I leave my funny girls at home. I can't imagine driving them 1k miles to Calif, from d'Baja bottom. Better they miss me and I make it up with rabbit-chasing, whale watching beach excursions. I think they are safer at home where life is good + they are happiest here.

Jorge Arturo said...

There is a Pet Hospital in Queretaro with preventive and geriatric treatments,

And also my vet does that, like cleaning and greiatric stuff, my dog lived to 16 years, when the rate is 12 years, and those extra years in perfect health. He is Dr. Solorio, and the best part is that he goes to your house and takes the dog for all he needs, and bring him back later.

Dr. Solorio.
TEL: (442)216-1241 TEL: (442)341-3512
NEXTEL 341 3512 ID 62*197247*2

Burro Hall said...

Thanks everyone. We dealt with Dr Solorio once, and liked him just fine. But before we get too off-topic here, this isn't about vet care. Let's just assume we're going to Boston or New York for a week and want to bring to dog with us (and we're not planning to drive 5,500 miles round trip).

Has anyone else been asked to present all these documents upon their return, or have you been able to use your Mexican travel certificate to get back in? And would they really impound the dog, or is that just bluster?

Anonymous said...

Fly to and fro San Diego and rent a car both ways over the border or get authentic-looking glasses and moustache for the perro, help him with his posture, and teach him to give customs officials a steely stare.

Anonymous said...

I guess I mean drive to Texas. I only know where Tijuana is.

C.M. Mayo said...

Here's what I understand. (I am not the offcial source of info, OK, this is just my experience of many years. Anyone really looking at bringing your dog in or out of Mexico, best to check with customs directly, and your vet.)

If you are bringing the dog back to Mexico from the US after having spent more than a couple of days in the US, you will need US documents. (Yes, this necesitates another expensive, otherwise needless, and often hugely inconvenient, visit to the vet.)

The US vet that issues the health certificate has to be certified to issue an INTERNATIONAL health certificate, so it might not be so easy to actually get an appointment when you need it! Ergo, plan ahead. And cross your fingers.

So, to bring the dog back to Mexico, you need (1) the US issued health certificate (2) all vaccinations certificate (a page signed and stamped by the US vet or Mexican vet) plus (3) a USDA form (seveal different colors, as I recall, pink, blue, yellow, carbon sheets in between). As back up, keep all Mexican doc handy, of course.

By the way, I have never had to send that form to the USDA. I just get it from the US vet and bring it with me to Mexico. The US vet fills it out and signs it.

So when you arrive at the Mexican airport, these are the documents that you will present to the customs animal inspector. My experience with the Mexican animal inspectors has invariably been that they are very professional.

Leaving Mexico is a different matter: to get onto the plane with the dog you will need 4 copies of a Mexican vet's health certificate, plus vaccination certificates, plus a copy of the vet's Mexican "credencial."

PS Your pug is a cutie! Glad he made it through that long flight.

Burro Hall said...

Thanks! I knew I should have just come to you first. That's jibing pretty much with what we've heard elsewhere. I checked my certificate from 2006, and it doesn't have an USDA stamp on it - the USDA says that's only for "commercial" animals. Why Customs Guy thought he needed it, I don't know, and didn't know enough to ask.

One person emailed to say she'd been stopped at Mex City airport without a US certificate and they were very serious about detaining the dog. But they were able to get a vet there in 15 minutes to deal with it. I think it would take at least overnight here in Qro.


C.M. Mayo said...

Hola Burro Hall,
Here's the latest link from my US vet:

Seems the Mexican regulations have changed slightly.

C.M. Mayo said...

Just triple comfirmed w US vet ... the change is that now you have t have the dog dewormed and deflead (OK I made that word up) plus hae a rabies vacc less than one year before departure. So my dog "needs" all that, even though, alas, she actually doesn't. But them's the rules.

Burro Hall said...

Thanks, CM! All very helpful - if extremely frustrating.

I wish they'd make it this hard to bring in guns... said...

A very late comment on this... What a difference between land crossing and airport travel. My dog and cat go back and forth from Edinburg to Reynosa all the time. I don't even bother bringing any papers anymore since no one has ever asked in more than 2 years. The dog has even traveled to Mexico City without papers. One time coming back to Texas, the dog growled at the Border Patrol agent. However, considering the terror on the road between your home and the border, I don't think driving is advisable. I hope your next trip won't be as frustrating.