Would you make aliyah and leave your family behind? If you've got a precious fuzzy (or scaly, or slimy) friend at home, you probably wouldn't consider a big move without them.
Your dog, cat or reptile may not be exactly Jewish, at least according to the Law of Return, but that doesn't mean they aren't family.
Before we go on, I’ll admit something. Two things, actually.
One, I have owned almost every kind of pet there is except dogs and birds. Lizards, guinea pigs, ferrets, cats, frogs, hamsters, turtles, fish.
Two, when I found out I was expecting my son, twenty years ago, I got rid of every single living thing in the house. I love animals. But I knew I could either raise animals and plants... or I could raise a kid. I wasn't responsible enough to do both.
We've had a couple of near-brushes with cats since then, but so far, nothing has stuck.
So when we made aliyah two years ago, we were petless. To get some advice on what it's like doing it with a fuzzy (or otherwise) buddy, I turned to some reliable sources on Facebook, as well as personal friends who brought their sweet (ginormous) doggie to Israel from Canada.
Clearing all the hurdles
Most important: don't assume that just because you've mentioned your pet to your Jewish Agency rep that it's all taken care of. The Jewish Agency is in charge of HUMAN aliyah.
Pet aliyah is governed jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Nature Reserves Authority, along with the Director of Veterinary Services. All of which will require a whole slew of paperwork of their own (some no doubt redundant and - seemingly - unnecessary).
Let's start with the good news from one recent olah, who says that while there are "lots of hoops to jump through to bring a pet… but it’s well worth it."
However, she warns, "These steps have to be repeated every time you re-enter Israel," so you'll have to plan vacations out of the country very, very carefully if you want to take a pet.
(A rude surprise to Americans who are used to hopping in the car - or on a plane - with the family dog and heading all over the country.)
Only one person felt that Israeli requirements were particularly onerous, beyond the standard micro-chipping and rabies vaccination requirements. However, he was planning his aliyah with a pit bull, which are banned here, according to Nefesh b'Nefesh.
"What stands out,” he said, “are all the restrictions they place on bringing in what they consider a dangerous breed and what one has to do to be in compliance with Israeli law of keeping it in a kennel box, muzzling it when walking in public, etc., seems a little extreme to me.”
Most others, however, seemed to think the process was actually pretty reasonable at the Israeli end, and easy to manage on their own or with a little help from Nefesh b’Nefesh.
First, set aside money – a lot
I won’t lie to you: I’ll tell you up front that you'll want to set aside a whole wad of money solely for bringing your pet into Israel. And then top it up with a little more money, just in case.
Every step along the way, from travel kennels to rabies titers to veterinary exams and USDA approval (if you’re coming from the States), will cost more than you’d imagined.
You’ll also need a whole lot of time. The mandatory rabies titre test can take up to three months
Your pet will need a whole slew of vaccinations, proof of no rabies, microchip, and health records from her current vet. Nefesh b’Nefesh has a full list of requirements for pet aliyah, so make sure you check that you’re following every single step.
(This post is advice from others who have been there and done that, but please don’t assume it’s comprehensive!)
But… you can save money as you plan
How much you’ll spend, according to one olah, really depends “on which vet you use, they're all different.”
She found a community animal hospital that was less expensive. “The guy we were going to hiked up prices and was being very careless with the entire process, giving out wrong information on the USDA procedure and over charging.” The vet she ended up working with was very familiar with overseas traveling with pets, which was reassuring.
You can also save on unnecessary expenses by planning ahead. Start searching your local Kijiji or Craigslist for pet travel needs like crates well ahead of time. You may even spot one free at the curb, if you give yourself enough time to plan. (But make sure it complies with airline regulations before you show up at the airport!)
Print out a full list of requirements so you can take it to the vet. This will not only keep you organized, but save paying extra for services you absolutely don’t need.
Cats and dogs will need a microchip – sometimes even if they have one already. It has to be an international one, which one person says is available inexpensively through the SPCA. She also recommended terminal4pets, an Israeli company that helps with pet relocation.
If you're bringing anything besides a cat or a dog, expect even more paperwork.
One person chimed in that he’d brought in a parrot, but the paperwork involved was no small task.
"That was mainly due to CITES (international treaty on transporting endangered animals) requirements. We had to prove that she was captive bred, get an export license from the States and an import license from Israel, have her microchipped, and have her vet certified that she is rabies-free (yes, even for a bird!). We also had to have her inspected by a US Fish & Wildlife officer at the airport."
Having been through all that, he says, with finality, that the bird is in Israel to stay - forever.
Check with the airline
Whether you're flying with El Al or another airline, check and double-check their own rules and regulations. These are over and above any government hurdles.
The Facebook friend who brought in the parrot says El Al surprised his family at the counter by demanding that they buy the bird a plane ticket! (Even though she would be travelling in an under-seat carrying box that counted as carry-on baggage.)
Bring extra money (or funds available on your credit card) to checkin with you just in case.
Preparing for travel
Making aliyah is like any other long trip with an animal, and it could be very stressful. On the aliyah forms we filled out, one question asked if I was able to withstand the trip to Israel – seriously ask yourself the same thing, especially about pets who are very old or fragile.
There are ways to alleviate your pets’ discomfort during the trip.
For one friend, all the bureaucratic hoops in the world were nothing "compared to our fear [her dog, Layla] would be traumatized with such a long ride in cargo. So I bought her a Thundershirt and a good quality pheromone collar. She had a good crate that made her feel safe and a nice comfy bed. It was 15 hours before we were reunited. She was fine!!! Not traumatized...had to pee really urgently but didn't pee in her crate. When we took her out she was only happy and went around making friends in the airport!"
Remember, there will be a wait, even after you arrive in Israel.
In addition to the travel delay, your pet may have to wait while you clear the actual immigration process with Misrad Hapnim (ministry of the interior). This can take an extra two or even three hours after a long and stressful flight.
One person on Facebook had checked with the Jewish Agency in advance, who said they'd try to get the pet cleared to be picked up by a family member while she was going through the paperwork.
Another way to try to eliminate the delay is to send the pet and paperwork on with somebody who isn’t making aliyah – if you can stand to be apart for a few days. (If your spouse or partner is already an Israeli citizen, they can also go through more quickly to claim the pet.)
All of the pet owners I spoke with online have one thing in common – they’re so, so happy to have their fuzzy (or feathered) friends with them in Israel.
Moving to another continent is stressful, there’s no getting around it. Having that soft, special someone to smooch and cuddle with while you’re going through it, is absolutely priceless.
More essential reading
If you have any other great links – or pet travel/aliyah tips of your own, please leave them in the Comments section to help out others if you’ve done it already.
- More pet aliyah success tips – from Nefesh b’Nefesh
- Making aliyah with pets – from Terminal4Pets (this company sells services to olim)
- Six awesome pet travel tips – from the Aliyah Survival blog (it’s down in the comments section – if you don’t see it right away, you can also search the page for “pets”)
- Pet aliyah balagan – a cautionary tale of two cats and a dog “returning” to the Holy Land
- $700 per cat?!? – from the Aliyahu! blog