Taking Pets to Hawaii – Quarantine Not Required, But It Is an Adventure

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A bit of work to get here, but oh so worth it!

UPDATE 11/28/14 : After so many requests, I put this information together as an ebook on Amazon.com. It has a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process, and the supplementary chapters will save you time and spare you the frustration and confusion that can accompany the bureaucratic steps.  Take Your Dog To Hawaii: How to bring dogs, cats, birds, horses, and other pets to Hawaii.
The chapters on how to make the adjustment once you are here will help you find pet friendly lodging, beaches, and parks.
There are also sections on bringing other pets (who knew that you can bring guinea pigs, but hamsters are not allowed?) and domestic animals.
As I sat in the Honolulu Animal Quarantine waiting room with several other equally frazzled pet owners, a very unfortunate young man was trying to get his dog released but lacked the ability to pay the $165 fee.  He explained how he’d lost everything to theft, didn’t have the cash or i.d. needed, and couldn’t get to a friend on the island and back in time to keep from having his dog moved to the quarantine station.  He was upset but pleasant, the officials were empathetic, but it was a no go.
At that point the woman sitting next to me – who herself had experienced an arduous journey with a dog and cat – asked how much money he needed. Tired, aggravated, and flushed from the heat she muttered something under her breath then stood up, walked over to the window and said (with an expletive or two) that she would pay for the release of the dog.  Without pause she counted out the cash as we cheered.  She accepted the gratitude and a hug from the young man, and when he offered to pay her back she just told him to pay it forward.
That generous and kind person is now becoming a resident of Hawaii, and she is a stellar example of the type of person who would never have come here had the new rules not made it possible for her to bring her pets, leaving the state poorer for turning away people like her.  So why is it difficult for pet owners to move to Hawaii?
Back in 1912 Hawaii established a 120 day quarantine policy for carnivorous animals in order to keep rabies out of what was then the Territory of Hawaii.  The rules remained unchanged when Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959 up until 1997 when a 30 day quarantine went into effect – more lenient, but still a stumbling block for many pet owners.
In 2003 the present “five days or less program” replaced the need to quarantine pets in Hawaii at all, much to the relief of people who previously found the options of lengthy quarantine or giving away their pets equally untenable.  The new policy is also more in keeping with the warm, friendly and family oriented culture of Hawaii, so it just makes sense all the way around – yet Hawaii must still be strict to keep the state rabies-free.
Hawaii now puts the burden of proof on the shoulders of pet owners, and they provide clear yet inflexible guidelines on exactly how to go about bringing pets into the state.  It is a lengthy process which can be complicated, and woe to anyone who misses a deadline – but with careful planning anyone can do it.
I outline the process in detail (which you can download for free if you have a Kindle), but here are the main points:

  • Allow at least five months, even though the waiting period is 120 days. The waiting period starts after all the shots and blood work is done and received.
  • Dogs and cats will need original records of vaccinations signed by a veterinarian, and this can be hard to obtain if you have been lax about shots or have moved.
  • After the animals have two rabies vaccinations at least 30 days apart, the blood work is sent to the lab to be checked, and the results are then sent to Hawaii.  At that point you can find out online when the first day your pet is allowed into the state.
  • No more than 14 days before the pets arrive in Hawaii a veterinarian must apply a certain flea/tick preparation to the animals, and no more than 10 days before the vets must prepare a health certificate. Note that these are for the dates you are actually traveling.
  • Pets must arrive by 3:30 pm in order for them to be released directly, otherwise they are transferred to the quarantine site and held up to 5 days (for the “five days or less” option, which costs $225).

The next hurdle is getting your pet there – the airlines can only accommodate a few pets on each flight, whether they fly in the passenger compartment, as baggage, or as cargo. Because the pets must get to Hawaii in the afternoon the morning flights from the mainland book the animal spaces early- and information about pet bookings will not show up when you look online for tickets so it is advisable to contact the airlines directly for reservations.
You must make sure that the health certificate includes a statement by the vet that states that your pet can withstand temperatures of 45 degrees, and some airlines will demand a letter to this effect by the vet.  This is because the airlines have made changes to make sure that all pets arrive safely and in good health and can tolerate the cooler (but still climate controlled and pressurized) environment of the cargo hold.  Oddly enough, they do not require anything stating that the animals can withstand high temperatures even though dogs are documented to have died of heat stroke on flights.
If you are flying a big dog (more than 29″ from the top of the head to the ground) you may not be able to fly them as baggage on your flight or even as cargo because some plane cargo doors are too small to fit a larger crate.  If you don’t want your dog flown all over and kenneled overnight in some strange city, you must figure out which airlines will fly pets nonstop and still get them to Hawaii by 3:30.
Hawaiian Airlines does not take any dog over 70 lbs as baggage. They can fly a larger dog as cargo (which costs several times as much, even on the same flight), but you must arrange to have a backup contact in Hawaii in case your own flight is delayed.
Alaska, United, and Delta currently either don’t have flights that arrive in time (from Seattle) or have no capacity to fit a large crate, but flights on some of these airlines are available with smaller pets.  All airlines are not equal when it comes to safely transporting animals, so definitely spend time finding out which are the best.
Cats are easier to ship than all but the tiniest dogs, and the cost to fly them varies with airlines, but the airlines allow only a few animals of any kind on each flight (ie three or less). You will have to take them out of their carry-on container and hold them when you go through the security scanners, and because – unbelievably – people use pets to smuggle all kinds of things, further tests may be performed to make sure that your pet is not carrying drugs or other contraband. So if your cat will be freaked out by this, do bring a leash of some sort so that the cat can’t get away – remember, you will be standing there in bare feet with your valuables in bins, and chasing a frightened cat is a nightmare at best
The pets flying as luggage or cargo will need to get to the airport at least three hours early in some cases, and it is advised that you find deep water bowls and freeze water in them overnight so that the pets have water available on the flight as the ice melts.  You are permitted to put any kind of soft bedding in that is absorbent, and familiar blankets etc are always a good idea.

Bailey loves his new home in Hawaii!

My experience:
Overall, it was very positive.  My big dog had to fly cargo on Hawaiian, but they carefully explained their requirements in advance, offered tips to make the pet comfortable, and were friendly.  We were at the airport by 5:30 a.m. to get the dog settled for a 9 a.m. flight.  My cat flew with me as a carry on baggage on Alaska Airlines, and although it was cramped to have her at my feet and my overstuffed large handbag on my lap for six hours it was doable, and fortunately the cat was quiet. I arrived in Honolulu about the same time as my dog, and was met at the gate by an official who took the cat to the quarantine office.
Some glitches with family schedules meant that I had to plan last minute alternatives causing me to spend hours on the phone with the airlines, but as it turns out it prevented larger problems since the pet spaces were already booked on the original flights, which would not have accommodated my large dog.
A huge thing to note: the reservation agents often don’t know or don’t understand the pet flight rules themselves.  You need to check and double check the facts.
Finding the Animal Quarantine in Honolulu Airport was not straightforward, even though an agent met me at the gate.  This was experienced by others from different flights as well but is not a big deal unless you are short on time.  The agents in the quarantine office were very pleasant, and watched my bags when I went to pick up the rental car.  I had reserved a minivan in order to make sure that the dog’s crate fit, which turned out to be good because they will not let you take the animals out of the crate while at the airport.
Here were the highlights:
The wonderful, friendly, pet loving staff at the Edgewater Hotel where I stayed with the dog and cat in order to make the early flight. They were not bothered by the chaotic nature of my arrival, didn’t bat an eyelash at the battered old suitcase I brought, they lavished the dog with attention, and were careful with the cat. They took the pet water bowls to the staff lounge and froze them overnight and made sure we had them following the 3:30 a.m. wake up call the morning of my flight. I repacked my bags and left unwanted clothes etc, as well as the disposable litter pan and got no complaints. With winter rates and because pets stay free of charge it was competitively priced, and it felt like a luxurious reward after the packing, moving, planning, and traveling with the pets, but the whole experience was so positive and the staff so professional and friendly that I would do it again even at standard rates.
The vets at NW Veterinary Hospital who squeezed my dog in for the ‘letter of acclimation’ at the last minute, examined my dog and certified that he could withstand 45 degree temperature, and didn’t charge.
Learning that my cat, who turns into a whirling dervish of teeth and claws in the hands of strangers would be completely docile when I held her for exams and through airline security.
The Edgewater staff, the vets, the inspirational woman named Sandy who helped the young man get his dog from quarantine, the wonderful people where I live who offered to pick me up at the airport and welcomed me with flowers and a nice dinner, and my son who took a couple of days off work to help get me to two airlines with two pets on time, all helped transform what seemed to be an ordeal into what is turning out to be a wonderful adventure.
So to sum it up – allow plenty of time, read the fine print, double check the airlines, make sure you prepay all fees or arrive with cash, do what you can to make yourself comfortable, and enjoy your new adventure!
Bailey and his new buddy Rango play on the beach everyday, he loves it here!


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