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Six Easy Steps for Bringing Pets to Spain

3 Jan
Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. However, in non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. For the United Kingdom, there is a four month quarantine. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: “Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”


  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I found an airline with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months that are traditionally temperate. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet. Make sure the pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.
  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 DAYS before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.

Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home. Most eateries in Spain are dog-friendly.

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California


Quest for Culatello

9 Oct
Culatelli di Zibello Source: Wikipedia Commons

Culatelli di Zibello
Source: Wikipedia Commons

I felt like a criminal when I smuggled the non-permitted item onto my flight from Bologna to Paris, and the next day from Paris back to Los Angeles. But I didn’t travel that far to be stripped of my prized Culatello di Zibello, considered by many salumi lovers to be the King of charcuterie. Better than its cousin prosciutto, culatello has an intense, complex salty, sweet and musty flavor with a supple texture.

Culatello, which literally means “little ass” is made from a single muscle from the hind leg of a pork. After the muscle is trimmed and the bone and skin are removed, it is massaged and salted. It is then encased in a cleaned pig bladder, and then typically hung from the ceiling of a 500 year old musty cave. This aging process can be from 16 to 18 months, or even as much of 30 months.

Culatello di Zibello is made in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy near the foggy Po River area. The Emilia-Romagna area is best known for its prosciutto, Modena balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and the birthplace of tortellini (one legend is that they were inspired by Venus’ navel.) After a food- and music-centric week in Venice, I took the train to the Bologna region in search of food nirvana.

My first night in Bologna I dined at the historical Papagallo, of course ordering tortellini, as I always try to order the most “typical” food of the region I am visiting. Bologna is a vibrant, bustling college town, great for wandering under the porticos, and exploring the many historical and artistic sites. But my real quest was to try as much of the local fare that is thought to be amongst the best in Italy.

To that end, after a few days exploring Bologna, I decided to take the train to the nearby towns of Modena and Parma. (If taking the train from Bologna, make sure to be on the right platform.) The handsome ticket seller at the train station flirtatiously questioned my intention of seeing both towns in one day, but as it was my final full day in the area, I was determined to sample both. I typically just wander the streets and see what eateries invite me to dine, whether inexpensive local spots or upscale. In Modena, for lunch I found Hosteria Vecchia, which featured the typical cuisine of Modena. The restaurant was bustling with local businessmen, blue collar workers, and couples, all enjoying the fantastic fare.

Salumeria Garibaldi Source: Flickr

Salumeria Garibaldi
Source: Flickr

After buying my aceto balsamico tradizionale (Modena balsamic vinegar aged at least 12 years), I continued on my food quest to Parma, now in pursuit of culatello. Again, preferring to let serendipity take its course, I wandered around Parma’s old town centre. I found cafes, and shops but not any salumeria. Dissappointed, I headed back to the train at dusk when I saw the illuminated Salumeria Garibaldi welcoming me. I managed to put in my order just before they closed. I chose three types of salumi including the culatello.

Back at my room in the elegant Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, I ordered some aged Parmesan, a dry Lambrusco wine and proceeded to savor my culinary finds. I couldn’t eat all of the culatello, but there was no way I was going to throw it away.  I decided to take it with me, so my son, who was meeting back up with me in Paris, could try it with me. To that end, I wrapped the pungent culatello in multiple layers of plastic so hopefully it would not be detected before boarding the plane in Bologna and again in Paris. Once safely en route from Paris to Los Angeles, we devoured the sublime culatello, apparently without detection.