What hoops must I leap through to get The Cat from here to there?
June 6, 2012 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Deciphering government websites is not my forte. Please help me figure out what my cat needs in order to cross the border from Canada into the US.

I'm moving from Canada to the US in August. My ultimate destination is North Carolina, but I will be entering the states by land via the border crossing at Fort Erie/Buffalo. My cat is coming with. After consulting these three websites, I know that some sort of documentation is required for my cat to enter the country/state, but for the life of me I can not figure out what, exactly, this documentation is, or HOW and WHEN to get it.

My understanding is that I must prove my cat's rabies vaccinations are up to date, and that a vet has certified him to be in good health. Seems simple enough, but all the info on those websites is so freaking vague and poorly worded that I'm left with the following uncertainties:
- NC " requires that all domestic dogs, cats, and ferrets entering North Carolina must have a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of the date of entry into the state"...does that mean I could obtain this health certificate AFTER entering NC?
- How do I prove my cat has been vaccinated for rabies? Is there an official form I need? Or will a signed letter/document from my vet suffice?
- Here's the really confusing part: The Border Control website says "Cats are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for importation into the United States. However, some states require vaccination of cats for rabies, so it is a good idea to check with state and local health authorities at your final destination." Does this mean that I won't be asked for documentation at the US/Canada border, since federal law doesn't require it? If that's so, how do the state of North Carolina's stricter regulations come into play once I'm in the US? Will I be stopped and asked for documentation when I cross state lines into NC? How can NC enforce their own regulation if the border guards are going to let us in with no paperwork? I'm so confused......

In short, I am looking for your expertise (gained either through experience or through superior government-language-parsing abilities) about taking animals from Canada into the US, and about how state regulations interact with federal ones. I'm certain there are millions of mefites out there who have taken their kitties across the border, so PLEASE tell me how it works. Bonus points for explaining it to me like I'm a not-particularly-bright five-year-old, because that clearly seems to be what I require.
Thanks, all!
posted by Dorinda to Pets & Animals (4 answers total)
I'm going through this in the opposite direction, but the requirements are supposed to allow re-admission of my cat to the US:

1. rabies vaccination certificate with the microchip number printed on it
2. the EU (several pages) French/English certification form
3. the USDA APHIS form 7001

The EU requires the microchip; not sure about the US return.

The state laws are ignorable unless a) your cat has rabies and b) it passes it on somehow within that jurisdiction.

Let me emphasize that I do not know this to be the case, but it is what I have been told by the USDA vet who is going to sign the paperwork.
posted by jet_silver at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2012

State rabies vaccination laws are generally enforced after the fact - so, if your cat bites someone and you can't prove it's been vaccinated, there's a good chance that the local Animal Control will have it destroyed. (The local vet will have whatever proof is necessary when they do the vaccination - I get dated, ID-numbered rabies tags every time I bring the girls in for their shots. At least, that's how it works in both Illinois and Texas.) Likewise if your cat is outdoors and picked up by Animal Control - you might have to display proof or pay a fine when you pick it up.

There's really no state border enforcement of anything, anywhere, other than occasional short-term politically-motivated random drug stops.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2012

I made this exact trip about two months ago: drove from Toronto to North Carolina with a cat in tow via Buffalo.

What you actually need: a vaccination certificate. Call your vet and ask for one and tell them yore travelling to the US with a cat; they'll know exactly what you're talking about and handle it all the time. You can also elect for to have a specific international-travel-health-check-up done on your kitty, but this is only necessary if you'll be flying.

My experience while crossing: I told the border guard I had a cat, he barely batted an eye and did not ask for any documents and I was waved through to the Visa area of the Rainbow Bridge (for work visa reasons). I told the car inspector at the Visa office that I had a cat in the car, but he was more interested in my apple (because it's an agricultural product, not because he wanted to eat it, though maybe that too). I had zero trouble.

You're not going to notice crossing the state borders except via highway signs; I would imagine that the stricter regulations are enforced on an if-caught basis. No one is going to bar you from NC if you've entered the US. No one I spoke to mentioned requiring a microchip...and I had called the border crossing services to make sure I had all my paperwork lined up.

Good luck! Feel free to email me if you have any other questions...and come to a meetup sometime once you're in NC!
posted by Phire at 9:50 PM on June 6, 2012

Seconding Phire. You need a vaccination certificate. Your vet can give you one. It was a little green laminated card when we still had The Bouzou Dog.

They rarely asked for it, but sometimes they did, and it was good that we had it.

Just ask your vet.
posted by musofire at 6:08 AM on June 7, 2012

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