Tips for Selecting a Pet Relocation Specialist

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Let’s paint a picture. You finally did it! You decided to take the big leap and relocate your entire family overseas! For the majority of your family they have never set foot out of South Africa and here you guys are relocating all 6 of you including “Fluffy” and “Frido”. Now comes the major part. Deciding on an immigration specialist, find a job, new house, schools for the kids, removal company, selling your cars, buying new ones and most importantly…… A Pet Relocation Specialist.
Did you choose your financial advisor because it was the first tab on google?
Did you choose your hairdresser because they love hair?
Did you choose your car because your friend of a friend said her car is amazing?

Choosing a Pet Travel Specialist company is no different from the critical long term daily decisions that we need to make. PETport Owner, Managing Director and IPATA President, Hazel Imrie shares her expertise within the Pet Relocation Industry and her tips in selecting the best Pet Travel Specialist for you.

Registration and Accreditation: 

Yes, Pet Travel Specialists should be registered and accredited; unfortunately, in South Africa, there is no legal requirement for anyone engaged in these services to have any form of accreditation or registration. Registration with this sort of independent body is a stringent process with a strict entry protocol to ensure professionalism within the industry and a 12 month lead period before the organization is displayed on their website to the public as an accredited member. If they don’t manage their business correctly, fail to comply with the strict Code of Ethics or don’t follow the necessary criteria, they are removed. Companies that take this profession seriously are registered with international bodies such as IPATA (International Pet and Animal Transport Association The International Pet and Animal Association (IPATA) is a non-profit trade association of independent members who are dedicated to the safe and humane transport of pets and other animals.

Education and training of the team

We expect the financial advisor, the hair stylist, the auto manufacturer we choose, is receiving ongoing education and training. We expect businesses who provide a service to receive more than once off training at the start of their business. If a stylist doesn’t keep up with the latest trends and hair health, pretty soon your gorgeous locks will be in poor health. 
Animal travel regulations change rapidly, and often with little to no notice. The variations and interpretations of the regulations can leave many pet owners bewildered and in a sticky situation if this is not done correctly, or a scenario of “best guess” is applied. What sort of ongoing education and training program does your appointed company have in place? Professional certificates in application of the Live Animal Regulations are essential to ensure that your pet’s travel is being managed correctly in line with IATA guidelines for the safety of the airline, all the passengers on the aircraft, and your pet’s physical and emotional wellbeing.  

Size of the team: 

Whilst it is always lovely to have the same person;

  • that answered the phone,
  • handling your documents,
  • collecting your pet,
  • looking after your pet,
  • checking your pet in with the airlines,
  • letting you know that your fur baby is in the air,
  • managing the clearance at the port of the destination.

This would all be perfect if you are the only customer for that company, unfortunately if you add in an additional  10 Moms and Dads to the above list of important processes , very quickly the ability to manage every single aspect of this multi-armed travel becomes less and less appealing when important and critical timeframes are jeopardised if your travel company misses a critical window that was only open for a few hours due to time zone delays.

Does your Pet Travel Specialist of choice;

  • have a specialist and dedicated consultant that handles only the travel aspects of your fur-kids move?
  • have specially trained handlers who know how to identify the symptoms of travel stress? 
  • Are they doing their own SARS Customs clearance, with a customs specialist on staff whose only job is to ensure that your pets airline ticket and export customs clearance is compliant and correct?

This is an important part of your selection process and working with your future Pet Travel Specialist. Understanding team roles for your Fur Baby’s relocation aids the communication and relocation process by minimising stress.

Global relationships: 

International relationships are vital in the travel industry as a whole. A good Pet Travel Specialist will have long term working relationships with like-minded companies around the globe, especially in their homeland. Your pet cannot talk, and both you and your fur kid are utterly reliant on the synergy created between these two partners (at point of departure and destination) to make sure your pets travel movement goes as planned. If there is an emergency at airline transit and your pet travel specialist can’t answer the phone at 4am Johannesburg time to call the destination agent in Auckland at 2 pm, who is urgently assisting. This will cause incredible delays in ensuring your pets welfare and travel plans are smoothly managed. A rule of thumb in professional animal relocation is that it is all fine and well, until something goes wrong, only then do you really know if you made the right travel partner choice. 

Global Relationships include;

  • The Kennels and Catteries associated with your Pet Travel Specialist. 
  • The relationship your Pet Travel Specialist has with Animal Stations around the world. 
  • Their relationships with State Vets and Airlines.

“Yes” Men: 

We all love it when things go our way; we as humans do love hearing the word yes, it is human nature. This does, however, bring its own set of problems if even the most outlandish requests such as “I know my paperwork isn’t right, but surely you can make it work” are met with “Yes we can!”. This should immediately set alarm bells ringing. As a financial advisor should never say “Yes!” to you if you ring them at 8 am on a Monday Morning, and tell them you want to invest your retirement fund into fidget spinners. Your Pet Travel Specialist has a moral duty to give you the right direction and let you know why this may be problematic. As Pet Travel Specialists the welfare of living breathing beings rests in our ability to take a cautious and careful approach to your pets movement, an import permit that appears to not be correct, or a Veterinary Health Certificate that is not on the correct co-government agreed templates should be met with a hard “NO!” followed by “We need to urgently amend and reissue with the correct information.”
Remember that you are appointing your Pet Travel Specialist based on years of experience as well as their qualifications and knowledge. NOT their ability to slip something past customs! Let’s assume (goodness forbid) your pet is exported on knowingly incorrect documents and lands at their destination in Mexico City and this variation in their documents is then noted. Not only are both yourself and the Pet Travel Specialist opening themselves up to fraudulent activities, but your Fur Baby, who has put their life in your and your pet travel companies hands, is at risk of being returned to origin or being euthanised.

Vehicles for transport: 

We all know the old age saying of “Never Judge a book by its cover”. Well, sometimes when it comes to moving your beloved fur baby, you absolutely have to! Vehicles used for the movement of domestic pets should NEVER be a “bakkie or an SUV” these vehicles must be closed cab panel vans with climate control and safety features. ”I recall a very distressed phone call from one of our pet handlers who was watching a pet being brought into the airport by a person who was relocating a families beloved fur baby.

The pets travel kennel could not fit into the back of the Toyota Tazz that was delivering it to the airport for manifesting at cargo, the travel kennel was wedged into the vehicle with the back end of it over the tailgate and the rear door was tied down over the kennel onto the bumper tow points with a rope to keep the rear door closed and stop the kennel from falling out on the journey. The company delivering the family pet to the airport were not registered and there was no recourse, the fur kids mom and dad probably didn’t know this was happening and may likely have to deal with unknown trauma and behavioural issues in the traumatised pet for years to come.”

South African Winters and Summers can be extreme on both sides of the temperature scale. It is important that your pet is kept at an optimum temperature during this transit. Your pet will be nervous as they have just left mom and dad, they are in an unusual environment and variations to temperature along with road noise is almost guaranteed to begin the imprint of life long trauma association to vehicles or even ventilation issues. Dogs pant when they are stressed, a dog who is panting too much, particularly a snub nose dog, runs the risk of overheating themselves which can lead to heart failure. 


In an unregulated sector of industry, self-compliance is beyond critical. IATA issues guidelines on very specific requirements of travel containers for live animals which must be followed down to the letter. Travel kennels are not just a wooden or plastic kennel for your pet to travel in. They need to meet stringent international requirement on the thickness of the wood used (if a wooden container) spacing of the air vents, size of the wire meshing on travel kennels, ventilation so that your fur kid can breathe without restriction whilst contained. All travel kennels are not made the same, there are numerous travel kennels on the market that place your pet at risk if used. Plastic travel kennels can be found in droves nationwide but sadly there is not one plastic travel kennel on the market that is manufactured to conform to the stringent IATA guidelines. Petmate in the USA have recently added a new design which does meet this criteria however we have not yet seen one of these kennels in South Africa. A kennel that does not conform to IATA specifications runs the risk of having the pet escape from the kennel either in the warehouse or onboard the aircraft. This could be by the wood being an inferior quality and pet chewing its way out the kennel, the plastic being of very poor quality and collapsing around the ventilation holes or even the door working its way open during the movement & vibration of the aircraft at 40 000ft. An escaped pet inside of an aircraft halfway through a 12hour trip is very serious and risks the safety of the aircraft and all the passengers onboard. Not without mentioning that if a pet jumps out the cargo door on landing when the doors are opened, and running down the runway can have large implications for landing and departing aircraft

Satisfied and un-satisfied customers: 

In any long term and professional business there is going to be a mix of customers. Knowing your Pet Travel Specialist has loads of very happy families is very important, however in the real world, things don’t always go to plan. In all long term and professional businesses there will always be clients that were not satisfied with a portion of the service, it is incredibly important to use this opportunity to see how the company responded, how did they handle the complaint, did they acknowledge honestly and truthfully if there was a wrongdoing, did they assume responsibility? Did the company perhaps choose not to be “Yes Men”? It is incredibly important to be discerning and open with these queries. If you are concerned about a post that you have read on Social Media a Pet Travel Specialist will welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding in an open and honest manner. If you have worries about your own relocation half way though, most companies will have an internal specific contact number or email address clearly displayed on their correspondences for you to immediately get in touch with a Senior Manager who can either assist in the understanding of the situation or ensure that a problem that is stalling the relocation is resolved. It is key to remember that everyone has different personalities and one consultant who is chatty and wants to meet your pets on a zoom call may not work for you, you may be a person who prefers everything is kept on email doesn’t have the time to take a call to discuss your pets feeding requirements during the day. Not all
gloves fit, everyone’s personality is different so don’t be afraid to ask to be paired up to a consultant who may better fit your personality and needs. 

Thinking of relocating in the next 2 years, next month, or 8 months? Now is the time to start planning. When deciding on which Pet Relocation Specialist to use; assess their qualifications, look at their portfolio, understand their regulatory bodies and know how many years they have been operating professionally. Knowing how your potential Pet Specialist reacted during the COVID-19 pandemic is also very crucial for your selection process.

It goes without saying that it would be very unlikely to come across a Pet Travel Specialist who doesn’t love pets, or they would not be able to apply the knowledge, training and expertise correctly in your fur kids travel plans.

“This choice is perhaps one of the most important decisions you will face to make for your furry family member during the time they are with you, they trust and love you unconditionally, it’s important to have all the right assessment criteria together to make a correct and sound decision for Fido and Fluffy.” – Hazel Imrie.

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