Flying to Europe with a Service Dog

Catherine, Oliver and I are traveling to Europe in June to attend Ton and Elmine’s mid-summer unconference and do some camping in the Netherlands and northern Germany. And, of course, we’ll be taking Ethan, Oliver’s service dog, along with us.

As a service dog, Ethan is generally entitled to go anywhere we go, including inside the airplane cabin, and into Europe. But special arrangements are required to make sure this all goes smoothly; our advice from Dog Guides Canada in all such matters is to communicate early and often, and so over the past month I’ve been working to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. Here’s what I’ve done:

Before even making the decision to go, I needed to find an airline with the combination of reasonable airfares and a progressive service dog policy. Fortunately we found that in Condor, which flies from Halifax to Frankfurt (the other alternative was Icelandair, but as all its transatlantic flights involve a change of planes in Iceland, and Iceland requires some additional government paperwork just to allow service dogs inside the terminal, we opted against).

After making the Condor reservation online, I contact their Special Services department (“sonder reservierung”) and provided them with a letter from Oliver’s psychologist and a certifcate of Ethan’s training from Dog Guides Canada; a few days later they send an updated booking confirmation with reserved seats:

Ethan's seat reservation on Condor.

As Lufthansa is carrying us from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf I then had to contact their Canadian call center and ensure that Ethan was added to our flights in their system; they didn’t require any advance documentation, but I was advised that we’ll need to show proof-of-service-dogness at the gate before boarding.

With the flying handled, I then turned to matters of border control.

The Germany Embassy in Canada has a very helpful page of information about travel with animals and the section Accompanied Noncommercial Movements of Pets (Cats, Dogs and Ferrets) spelled out what we needed to do: within 10 days of travel we needed to have Ethan inspected by his vet and a Veterinary Certificate for non-commercial movement of up to five pets filled out. With this in hand we need to then visit the “official veterinarian,” which, in our case, is one of the vets at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency out by the Charlottetown Mall (that long, narrow building you’ve always wondered about beside Boston Pizza); they charge $20 for the certification.

There are a few other requirements that Ethan has to meet to enter Germany, all of which were in place already: he needs an ISO-standard microchip (fortunately Canada went with the European dog chip standard instead of the American one, so we’re set), and rabies vaccination.  Our helpful vet did some research for us and found that there aren’t any strange European dog maladies for which Ethan would need any additional vaccinations.

As far as lodging on our trip, we decided that, although it would likely not be an issue to take Ethan into hotels and motels with us, we would, instead, rent a VW camper (from DRM), which will give us a self-contained rolling home (we had the benefit of the experiences of my friend Bill and his family, who took a 5-week trip across Europe in a VW van several years ago and rave about the experience).

And so, in theory, we’re set and ready. I’ll be double-checking all of the above as our June 17 travel date draws nearer, but if all goes according to plan we’ll drive over to Halifax on the afternoon of June 17, park the car, gather up our suitcases and our dog, and head off to our next European adventure.