When a zoo wants to find a suitable mate for an animal, it checks with other zoos. Animals in one exhibit at a zoo may all be from the same family, so mating them is out of the question. Once a potential mate is found, the question of how it travels from one zoo to another comes up. In addition, private individuals moving from one part of the country to another for work want to know how to relocate their animals.
Pet relocation companies have been around for a long time, though there weren't many companies doing this type of business. One thing is certain — whether you transport a gorilla for a zoo or a poodle for a family, the field brings many surprises and adventures.
Imagine seeing Kevin O'Brien's face when he was asked to move 3,000 mosquitoes from a research facility in California to one in Texas. He had to find the quickest and safest route possible. He also had to make sure that these 3,000 mosquitoes were well packed and would arrive alive and buzzing. “We found the quickest flight available,” he says.
As head of PetRelocation.com, he knows which airlines are animal friendly and open to transporting animals. Depending on where the animal is going, it might be easiest to drive. In other cases, air travel is the only option.
In this do-it-yourself era, it is possible to go online and read the “traveling with pets” column on each airline's website. However, companies like PetRelocation.com know how to cut through the red tape. “We are all so busy, and at the same time, quite concerned about transporting our pets safely from one place to another,” says O'Brien. “Our customers call us and only speak to one person — all hours of the day. That person is responsible for making sure their pets will travel and arrive safely to the desired destination.”
If a family is moving overseas for work, pet relocation services will make sure all the necessary pet papers are in order. “Some countries quarantine pets for a few months before they are allowed into the country,” says O'Brien. “That's so hard on the pets and the families.”
By working several months ahead of time, O'Brien and his employees make sure the animals have all the necessary shots and papers. Rabies shots are mandatory; other requirements vary by country. Pet movers have employees in several parts of the country, and some overseas.
“The Internet has made this work possible,” says O'Brien. “I have connections everywhere. Many of my staff specialize in certain countries. They know the laws, which saves my clients time and grief. If a document is wrong, a pet may be denied entry into a country or may be quarantined for a long time. Having all of the right papers ensures a smooth process.”
All pet relocation workers must have background safety checks before getting hired. Individuals and companies hiring pet relocation services want to make sure that their pets or exotic animals are in good hands before they entrust them to a pet relocation worker.
Working for a pet relocation service requires someone who likes flexible hours. Workers are on call, and regulars are kept constantly busy. Some pet relocation companies are now part of employee benefits package. “If a company wants to hire an executive, they need to have all of the perks to entice that person to move from their home,” says O'Brien. “That means relocating the pet as well as the family. Moving the family pet is the largest part of our business. Yes, people care about their furniture arriving safely and in mint condition. However, that is so minor compared to moving the family pet.”
Pet transporters must have a driver's license and passport. They must be well versed on all of the rules and regulations concerning air travel, security, and entry into a foreign country. Plus, they must be comfortable being around animals.
“Most of the pets we transport are in crates,” says O'Brien. His company sells crates of all sizes, which can easily fit in a car or on a plane. He even sells a product called Hydration Gel, which is a gel form of water. “Dogs, cats, and other animals need water,” he says. “If they are on a long flight or in a car, water can slosh around. Dogs don't tend to be neat when drinking water. If water spills, the dog can't drink it. So having the Hydration Gel ensures that the pet will be well hydrated throughout the flight and upon arrival.”
Other pets, such as the dart frogs that were transported to a lab in Switzerland, the cougars to a zoo in Belgium, and the horses to Honduras, were all safely caged at their starting destination. “Often it is the zoos or labs that properly cage the animals before we get them,” says O'Brien.
The Internet has made this a growth business. Pet relocation companies constantly monitor flights to check for any possible delays. Companies such as PetRelocation.com have a place on their websites where clients can track flight services — and keep track of their pets — at all times.
Pet transporters were kept quite busy during Hurricane Katrina. According to O'Brien, his company was the only private one allowed to land a Boeing 737 in Louisiana to save dogs. “We landed our aircraft in Louisiana, during a time when no other commercial airline could even fly human passengers,” he says. His company saved 80 dogs.
To become a pet relocation worker, start by contacting the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA). IPATA, founded in 1979, has grown from six U.S. pet shippers to more than 200 offices in 30 countries.
Pet relocation workers can easily earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. Some drivers can earn between $50 and $100 an hour depending on where they are going and what they are shipping. Running such a business takes very little capital, since a relocation service can be run out of a home office. What is necessary is a handful of computers with all of the right software. Owners of pet relocation services can expect to earn upward of $100,000 a year.