Planning to bring your best friend to Ecuador? Expats share their dog travel stories

Jul 30, 2018

By Brian Hitsky

When shipping your beloved large dog to Ecuador, it’s usually a traumatic experience both for the owner and the animal.  So say several expats, who recalled the trials and tribulations of their journey, and so bark their canines, especially when they are freed from that horrible crate.

Dogs ready for take-off.

“We kept saying it shouldn’t be this hard,” said Tony Young, who brought his four-year-old mix, Murphy, from Toronto, Canada.  “Murphy arrived in Guayaquil about 9:30 a.m. and we didn’t get him released until 4:30 p.m.”

“I cried and cried,” said Liz Young, Murphy’s other parent. “We kept saying it shouldn’t be so hard.”

It just isn’t pooch arrivals to Guayaquil that make one’s coming to Cuenca distressing. It seems that people who select Quito to land their hefty pets experience similar upsetting stories.

Steve Waxman decided that it was time to retire from his Kentucky horse farm and several businesses he owned. But he also would not leave his cherished Radar, a 10-year-old greyhound, behind.

“We arrived at 11 p.m. and I didn’t get the dog until 4 a.m.,” Waxman recalled. “We needed to find the right people, and even had to drive the agriculture inspector back and forth to his office twice to pay in cash only, and it was a requirement that the fee be to the penny.

Steve Waxman with Radar on the ground in Cuenca.

“They had about eight computers in an office with one person. This person collected a fee for the different departments, and entered the information into each of the systems,” Waxman said.  “There was a different computer for agriculture, customs, cargo, etc.  All of this is taking place and you couldn’t even see the dog.”

“Radar, who is 85 pounds, needed a series 700 cage, which is very large,” said Waxman.  “I found the cage, but couldn’t find a plane where it could fit.”  The airlines that Waxman used wasn’t accommodating, either. “They said we needed to be there at noon, but the plane didn’t leave until six,” he said.  “I also paid three times more for the dog than I did for my ticket.”

Was it worth it?  “Yes!” Waxman explained. “But I would never do it again. Radar raced 22 times so he was accustomed to crates, but not conveyor belts and the noise in the cargo bay.”

The Youngs also had payment difficulties. “They required us to go to different banks to pay the fees,” said Tony. “We weren’t allowed to pay at the office. We had hired a driver, who expected us to leave about 11 a.m., and he had to stay all afternoon until we collected Murphy.”

“It’s like the officials don’t like dogs,” Liz said. “We kept paying money here and there and your dog is still in the crate. It breaks your heart.”

“I said, ‘I don’t care.’  Just take my wallet, but give me my dog,” explained Tony.

The difficulties in bringing a large dog into Ecuador don’t just start on landing. They begin in the home country, where strict rules and procedures require attention to detail and non-negotiable deadlines.

A crate must be purchased that requires a certain size so the animal can stand up and move around comfortably. A veterinarian, with experience in international transportation procedures, must certify the health of the dog as well as give it the required vaccines.

Brad and Robin Littlepage’s best friend Atticus.

In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) must receive and verify the paperwork. The vet and the agriculture department’s involvement must take place within a limited, time-certain window, or the dog is prevented from traveling.

Then an airline must be found that is equipped to take the containers in its cargo hold. At times the animals must go it alone on one plane, while its owner travels on another. There also restrictions as to when one can bring the dog into Ecuador because of the heat.

If the temperature reaches 85-degrees Fahrenheit, airlines won’t take your four-legged friend.

The long flight from Colorado to Cuenca and the affects it might have on their eight-year-old German Shepherd, Atticus, caused Brad and Robin Littlepage to take a three-day three-night drive to Miami in April to cut off the cargo hold flight distance.

However, the Miami heat index almost did them in and so too did a lost health certificate.

“We did not want to put stress on the dog. He’s our baby,” Robin recalled. “Our kids are grown up, he’s our baby now.”

Despite all the planning, the Littlepages did not receive their 70-pound dog’s health certificate back from the USDA office in Sacramento, CA.  The USDA California office serves people from Colorado.  Brad and Robin had provided a FedEx envelope to have the document overnighted to their Miami hotel, but it was lost at the carrier’s warehouse.

A dog’s dream

A trip to the distribution center almost was futile, but the important piece of paper was finally found just four hours before the airline departure. In addition, the temperature at the airport was 83 degrees as the plane took off, just below the “no fly” level.

When the 4.5-hour flight landed in Guayaquil, the Littlepages were pleasantly surprised that Atticus came out of the baggage claim area safe in his cage. “All of a sudden here he comes,” said Brad.  “He looked very concerned, however.”

But, unlike others, the Littlepages were able to clear customs without going through the hoops of paying fees and having paperwork stamped by all the different bureaucracies. They just walked out of the airport with their animal, no questions asked.

“A woman from customs accompanied the crate and Atticus passed through just like we did,” the Littlepages said. They couldn’t explain why others had to wait so long and pay so much. “We handed our paperwork to an airlines official before boarding.  When we arrived in Guayaquil the customs people scanned through it and that was it.”

Once the expats and their dogs arrive in Cuenca, it’s an eye opener as to the differences in customs. Service dogs aren’t recognized in Ecuador, so accompanying your pet into business establishments or taking taxis or busses is met with resistance. Also, it’s difficult to find housing for large animals.  Both the Youngs and Waxman pre-visited Cuenca before moving here permanently to find residences that would allow their pet. The Littlepages are also in a complex that welcomes large breeds.

Yet, there are businesses that find allowing dogs, “good for business.”

Common Grounds, a sports bar on Gran Colombia, with a significant expat customer base, allows dogs.  Owner Christian Romero says he loves dogs and they are welcome inside or outside on the patio.  “We have dog regulars” he said.

“It’s different in Ecuador because a lot of dogs are not trained,” he said. “People are more afraid because some dogs are aggressive. We’ve never had a problem.”

What Cuenca businesses allow dogs?

Certainly not an inclusive list, but some other businesses allowing well-behaved dogs include:  Golden Prague Pub, on Alfonso Cordero across from Supermaxi, Café de Nucallacta on Hermano Migual and at Otorongo Plaza, Melatte Coffee locations, Sofy Global Cuisina on Benigno Malo, and on the patios of Inca Pub, Mayu Smoke House and La Bumba on Tres de Noviembre.

If you plan on bringing your dog into Ecuador, either big or small, it’s advisable to check on the recent rulesof the airlines, of Ecuador and of international requirements. Plus, make certain you team up with an experienced veterinarian.

But, even if all the procedures are followed to the letter, there’s sure to be an ordeal experienced for both you and your pet. It swells with the initial boarding, and doesn’t dissipate until the final crate opening, when fido appears with that smile and tail wag to let you know that everything is all right.

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