Moving from the UK to the US with 3 Cats

As many of you know, my husband and I recently moved from the UK back to the US. It sucked and I miss it. So much. But that’s another story. Today I’d like to share with you my experience during this PCS specifically about my cats.

I have 3 cats. We collected one at each base my husband and I have been together at, until we got to England, that is. We decided 3 is probably enough pets at a time.

Left to right, Katya, Ash, Coal

Our flight:
London Heathrow ➡️ Omaha, Nebraska
Layover in Denver, Colorado
Sunday, Sept 15, 2019

June 27: Go to vet and make sure cats are up to date on shots, as it had been a long time since we took them in. I get their vaccination records from them. Vet recommended we schedule health certificate appointment for Friday, Sept 13 as we didn’t have our flight itinerary/exact date decided.

Sept 6: Finally receive itinerary. We’re flying United Airlines. Start process of booking cats through PetSafe online. Discover our second flight only allows 1 pet per family. We have 3 cats. Nope. Husband works with his people to book a new flight.

Sept 9: Receive new itinerary with LONG layover in Denver (6 hours). At least I know they have a USO! (I’ve been at that USO with our first cat, Katya.) I had heard enough stories to be concerned of people having to run around and recheck their pets when they have a layover. If that were the case, we’d have time.
Realize United needs health certificates 5 days before flight. Try to reschedule our RAF Feltwell appointment, but they’re completely booked, of course. They recommend Eastgate Vets in Mildenhall town. I call and thankfully they’re able to move things around and fit us in.

Sept 11: Vet appointment for cats. Thankful for my June vet appointment where I had received vaccination records for each cat!! (I’ve needed those everywhere from lodging to flights, so definitely make sure you have a copy or two with you!) One page is their vaccination history, the other page is specifically rabies. Eastgate was amazing too. I went in before bringing my cats in and they were able to let me in through a door by the parking lot that was closer, but also avoided running into dogs. £135 for all 3 cats. Took about 45 minutes.

Sept 14: Take taxi to hotel by airport. “They” booked us in Park Inn by Radisson. Pet friendly, of course. Decent place!
*** I say “they” in quotations because I don’t remember who specifically my husband was working with to get us booked for everything. I try to stay out of his military life. Ha!

We realize we only have one bowl for the kennel. PetSafe website says we need 2 each. We also need to find fasteners for 2 kennels as our movers had packed the original ones and we ran out of time to pick some up.

Walk to stores around the hotel–a co-op at a gas station and a little corner “supermarket,” neither had anything useful though. Do some more internet research and no stores nearby have what we need or would be open at that point. Very seriously contemplate going back to RAF Mildenhall BX shoppette because it’s the only place open that might have what I need. 

Call the Heathrow PetSafe. They say we can use zipties, as long as it’s secure. They don’t have any bowls we can use. They do confirm that military drop off pets in the terminal, not cargo. Cargo is on the other side of the airport, so this makes life a lot easier.

Call Heathrow Animal Reception Centre about bowls. Thankfully they’re open this late. They have some!! Take an Uber there (about £12 each way. Obviously not ideal). Lady initially says there’s a charge for bowls, but when she returns with them she says not to worry about it. She tells us we only need one bowl each, so that’s what we get.

Book taxi at hotel desk for next day. We are also able to print out photos of our cats that PetSafe required.

Sept 15: Flight day! 11:35am flight.
7am. Take taxi to Terminal 2 (that’s where our flight was leaving from). Somehow manage to get 4 large suitcases, 3 medium kennels, and various carry-ons from curb to United desk. Lady was initially harsh about the kennels being zip-tied, but once we explained we were told BY PETSAFE that it’d be fine, she redirected her frustration and was incredibly helpful.
Thankfully they had metal fasteners and extra bowls (turns out we did need 2 each after all) and even a £25 duffel bag (we had a few things that we needed to check and didn’t have a proper bag for). Of course I’d recommend getting all of this sorted beforehand, but it’s incredibly helpful if you do find yourself in a pinch like us! Between needing to change out zip-ties for 24 metal fasteners and doing the regular paperwork, this takes about an hour and a half. Bare in mind we also have 3 cats, so lots of paperwork.
Costs about £950 altogether. Make sure you get military discount. Our cats do weigh about 10 lbs each, for reference, without kennel.

8:45am. Leave cats at United counter while we check our regular luggage. We had the tags printed at the other counter, so we’re just weighing and dropping off. The lady from the other counter makes sure to stop by and tell the guy we’re military, so we’re already set, and our suitcases are fine as long as they’re less than 30kg. We have 5 bags between the two of us, no extra charge.

9am. We’re escorted with our cats to a private room by security for the kennels to be swabbed and cleared. Each cat I take out and hold awkwardly while they do their thing. All of the cats are freaked out, so this is extra tricky. I also don’t feel like my cats wouldn’t be able to find a way out of this room, especially since people keep holding a door open to talk to a supervisor. Machine is malfunctioning, making this take even longer. After they finally finish all 3, we zip-tie them shut (4 zip-ties each, one in each corner of the door). From here we say goodbye to the cats, and are escorted back to the main hall so we can go through security ourselves.

11:30am~ our flight is delayed an hour and a half. Joy.

1pm. Board plane. Flight attendant stops by to give us a set of blue tickets, letting us know our cats are on board (huzzah!).

Land in Denver. Are informed everyone continuing onto a domestic flight will need to recheck luggage. Cringe.

Go through customs. Easy enough since we’re finally back in our own country. Wait for luggage. I scout out the oversized luggage area in case cats have been unloaded already. They’re sitting there in their kennels unattended. Next to a dog. Um, what??
We have to take them through agricultural check. Luggage also has to go through check. They confiscate our cat food BECAUSE IT’S NOT IN THE ORIGINAL BAG. It’s in ziplock bags. Wtf. We need to travel several more hours and Petsafe is required to offer them food and water every certain number of hours. And now they have no food. Thanks guys.

Drop checked luggage off in next room. Take the cats upstairs to another security check with an escort. Just tedious at this point, but it goes smoothly.

8:30pm. Next flight is delayed an hour and a half. When we’re waiting for them to board, we ask at the desk about cats, just to be sure they’d make it onto this flight.
Board. Receive next set of blue tickets confirming cats are on board.

12am. Note that these are all local times and it’s roughly 6am London time at this point. Longest day.
Land in Omaha. Thankfully it’s a small airport, so pickup is easy.

We did have an amazing sponsor (who also happens to be friends with us already), and they already offered to pickup a litter box for us. I messaged after our cat food was taken in Colorado and thankfully she was able to pick some up for us too.

If you’re a fellow military family and you’ll be moving overseas or from overseas back to the states with a pet, I highly recommend joining the Facebook group DIY PCSing with Pets Overseas. It’s such a huge help for this crazy process.

Here is my Amazon Affiliate link to the kennels we have. In case you aren’t familiar with the program, I do make a little money if you purchase using this link!

I do recommend replacing the fasteners with all metal ones to keep extra fussy cargo agents happy. Better safe than sorry!

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