Overseas Property: How to avoid an Incredible Journey

Britons who are quite relaxed about the thought of moving themselves and their families abroad may turn tail at the thought of relocating their pets. Don't worry, advises Ginetta Vedrickas, they'll probably be better looked after than their owners
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Moving abroad with her partner and small daughter was not an easy decision for Pippa Hardy: "My biggest worry was that Emerald would never be able to settle in Spain." A natural concern for any parent, you might imagine. Not exactly. Emerald is a cat and Pippa is typical of the growing numbers of Britons who are seemingly happy to move their families abroad but are often hesitant about moving their pets.

Pippa's concern may be justified by experience, however. Emerald had shown signs of emulating the cat in the Disney classic, The Incredible Journey: "In London we moved to a house a few miles away and for two years kept getting calls from our old neighbours who would regularly find Emerald sitting outside our old flat. She had to cross several roads including a very busy one and we never knew how she did it without getting run over."

When Pippa did decide to leave London, she flew to Malaga with her daughter and Emerald while her partner drove. She was surprised to find that her pet's air ticket cost more than her own: "Apparently they charge by weight and I was sorely tempted to put her on a strict diet before we left."

So far, Emerald has made no moves to return to the UK and neither have Susan Moody's dog and cat, Ike and Mountbatten, who moved from Cheshire to Valencia 18 months ago: "We drove down but my pets, rather glamorously, flew over." Moody used a freight company, based at Manchester airport, who collected the animals from kennels and put them on the plane. (Moody had already moved to Spain to take up her role as Parador Properties' after-sales advisor.) The company also arranged for their inoculations, micro chipping and the necessary export licence in a process which cost around £450. "It was quite a bit, especially as they were in the hold and probably didn't even get a film, but the process was easy."

Moody collected her animals from the airport to find them in containers covered in "nappy-like material" in case of accidents and drips for water. Untraumatised by the move, the pets are now settled into their urbanizacione and Moody uses her own positive experience to reassure animal owners who contact the after-sales service with concerns about pets. Parador clients pay €600 for this service, which entitles them to advice on any matters relating to their move.

Graham Martindale, who heads Parador's after-sales team, says: "We are getting many more queries relating to pets. So many people are now retiring over here and naturally they want to bring animals with them. Leaving the UK and their families is a big thing for most people and often their worries over pets are symbolic of other concerns." Martindale reassures buyers who have reservations about Spanish veterinary care: "It's great over here and far cheaper as there are large pet stores open on Sundays which have vets based in them and the drugs are much less expensive, too."

Philippa Bowman, who runs the Live France group, finds the situation is similar in France where pet pharmaceuticals can be bought over the counter for much less than the fees charged by UK vets. Bowman owns four cats and two dogs but moved permanently to France with just a cat. She arranged her cat's export certificate and flight to Perpignan: "We landed, but there was no sign of the cat. We went to the car- hire place and when we got back we were amazed to see our cat and someone else's dog going round and round on the conveyor belt."

The Live France group also run a helpline for buyers and they too receive growing numbers of inquiries from relocating pet owners. "One buyer rang and was very worried as she'd been told that she could only bring her pet over if it was tattooed," says Bowman who points out that French law requires all animals to be identifiable, a process which used to be done by tattooing the animal, but which has now been replaced by microchipping.

Anyone considering taking pets abroad should contact the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) helpline for advice as early as possible as the process can take several months. Fact sheets are available for Europe, long-haul destinations and the US. A spokesperson says: "There is no such thing as pet passports: that's just what people like to call them. The scheme actually refers to the certificate you need to take pets abroad, which is dependant on them being microchipped and vaccinated. Costs vary around the country and it's obviously more if your vet is in fashionable Chelsea."

But relocation agent Paulene Grant of UK Relocation Services notes that, for many of her clients, money is no object when it comes to moving their animals abroad. "One music-company executive was adamant that his beloved spaniel could not travel cargo so he got his company to pay for a private jet. Mind you, this was the same person who flew his interior designer over from the US to paint his rented flat's ceiling with fluffy clouds that turned into stars by night."

Grant has arranged worldwide transportation for a range of animals that would rival the Ark, including a tortoise. "The little boy of the family didn't want to move or leave his friends behind and he simply wasn't going anywhere without his tortoise." One of her more taxing property searches was for a house with a paddock for another US executive who insisted on bringing their thoroughbred to the UK. "As you can imagine, when I rang round agents, the list of available properties with paddocks was short."

Grant has stopped being surprised by the demands of high-flying executives. "They make billions for their companies who are happy to pay me to take care of everything, however complex." She is always willing to help, although a current client is causing concern: "A female executive wants to bring her beloved dog from the US but he's elderly, has renal failure and must have daily injections. I've had to find a pet sitter who will look after it when it arrives and a vet who is happy to make house calls. I've also had to check that its dog food, which is the same brand here as in the US, has the exact same nutritional content, otherwise, the owners say, it will know and won't eat. My colossal worry is that it's going to die in transit."

Parador Properties, 01737 770137

Live France Group, 00 33 4 68 45 69 19 or 0871-717 4143 from the UK

UK Relocation Services, 020-8442 0044. www.ukrelocation.com

PETS helpline, 0870-2411 1710, www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine