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October 15, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Mbwa kali

Walking toward home

Walking toward home

In some desolate, never-visited part of Kenya, there is an abandoned ziggurat of paperwork that I filled out in order to bring our dog and cat into the country. No one will ever look at it again, and it’s possible that no one has ever looked at, period.

Prior to my moving-to-Kenya preparations, I had come to believe that the internet knew everything. But I have discovered one topic about which the internet knows virtually nothing—bringing live animals here. As I surfed the waves of information for ex-pats, I was convinced we’d enter a dogless wasteland without prepackaged pet food, where you had to create your own out of the ravaged bones left behind by black kites. God only knew what the cat was going to eat. With luck, a kite would get her early in the adventure and that problem would be solved.

Those few readers who want entertainment out of this blog are advised to skip the next bit. It is a practical guide for wazungu who want to bring their pets to Kenya. I’m providing this information free of charge, with an ironclad guarantee of clarity and accuracy unparalleled by any other description of taking animals to Kenya.


First, you need a “Licence to Import Canine or Feline Animals into Kenya.” This is obtained—if that’s the word we want—from the embassy in your country, in our case the the good old US of A. It’s supposed to take three or four weeks. We heard an urban legend of a woman who went to the Kenyan embassy in Ottawa, Canada, in person, and got her Licence to Import Canine or Feline Animals into Kenya in a single day. Ha, as they say, ha. When we called the Kenyan embassy in the good old US of A to propose this idea, they told us, “Fuggeddaboudit,” or a Swahili word to that effect. Everybody has to wait. You can put up a tent in front of the embassy if you want, but it still takes three or four weeks. This “three or four weeks” thing, by the way, is a rhetorical flourish that embassies employ. In English it means “at least four weeks, probably longer.”

But wait. Here I’ve promised a clear explanation of pet importation into Kenya, and I see I’ve already gone off the rails. In the good old US of A, in order to apply for your Licence to Import Canine or Feline Animals at the embassy, first you have to go your veterinarian and get a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service United States Certificate of Health Inspection for Small Animals. The vet fills this out, you fax it to your nearest USDA office, and you await a phone call from the Acting Area Veterinarian in Charge. He calls within five days. Usually. You go down to the office and wait in the plastic chair reading Veterinary Dentistry. Did you know that the Curve of Spee is well known, but hardly understood in the horse? Eventually the form—”You are making six copies-press hard or type” (type?)—comes out from behind the counter with a mysterious blue seal on it.

Now you can send to the Kenyan embassy for your Licence to Import Canine or Feline Animals into Kenya, right? Not so fast there, buster. The Kenya embassy also wants to know where you’re sending the animals, i.e., what’s your Kenyan address. So you have to have already moved to Kenya before you can send your animals. And if you’re already in Kenya, who is going to go to APHIS and read Veterinary Dentistry? I can’t do everything for you.

But I can see Kenya’s position here. After all, you don’t want people sending their animals to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and leaving them there. Fair enough. Then you have to send the pet’s name, a cover letter, a fully paid return envelope (use a Fedex overnight. Trust me on this) and $50 American per pet to the embassy.

You are waiting on pins and needles for this permit to arrive, because you can’t really do anything else without it. If you don’t have it by the time you leave, you’ve got to simply turn the animals loose on the street and hope they run into a cousin with a spare bedroom or something. After four weeks I called the Kenya embassy in Washington four or five times. I eventually got through to the right office—this was Tuesday—and spoke to an incredibly efficient and confident young man who asked, “When are you leaving?”

“Saturday,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, “We’ll send it out today.”

Well, I think, that was easy.

So this a Fedex overnight return envelope I sent them. I check the tracking number obsessively. Tuesday p.m: Nothing. The dog is eyeing the airline travel crate with growing suspicion. Wed. a.m: nothing. Wed. p.m: finally. Bingo. On Thursday, I get my Licence to Import Canine or Feline Animals into Kenya.


So now I’m waving this Licence around like a Somali pirate flag. But I am no closer to sending my pets to Kenya than the Titanic was to New York. I’m leaving Saturday. But the airlines and the Kenyan government require that I have a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service United States Certificate of Health Inspection for Small Animals be dated no more than ten days before their arrival in Kenya.

“Wait,” I say, “I have one of those.” I put down the Licence and wave the six copies, pressed hard or typed (typed?).

“Sorry, no. Outdated. The ink on the indecipherable blue seal has to be dripping off the page.” They also require a implanted digital ID tag, flea and tick treatment, and deworming no more than 48 hours prior to departure, along with the name and address of the people who are going to pick the animals up at the airport in Kenya.

Jesus fucking semolians. Pardon my language. Why didn’t you say so before? The animals have to go back to the vet for another $200 physical exam that they just had thirty days ago. It takes at least five days just to get the APHIS documents, along with the $35 fee—did I mention the $35 fee? This weekend is Labor Day. They are going to have all the Veterinary Dentistrys locked up tight. By the time I get the USDA certificate, it will have expired.

Not to mention that I’m leaving for Nairobi on Saturday. Non-refundable ticket. I won’t be around to take them to the vet, fax the forms to APHIS, read the magazines, get the flea baths, wrangle them into their crates and drop them off at the airport. The dog is eyeing the crate, phoning around to see who she knows in the neighborhood.

Then a couple of superheroes stepped in. Our friends, the beautiful and talented Randall and Sharaine Roberts, said, “We’ll take care of all this stuff. Leave the animals here with us.” So they cared for them for about ten days, got ‘em to the vet, faxed the forms, read the magazines, crammed them in the crates, wept at their departure and put up with my neurotic repetition of the forms, crates, food, weeping, water and magazines.

So, now. End of story. Airline takes animals (did I mention the $1,900 air freight?) delivers them to Jomo Kenyatta airport. Right? Well … not exactly. In my delusionary state, I think I’ve hired an agent to pick them up because I don’t want to drive through Nairobi traffic to an airport I’m not sure I could find in the daytime, not to mention that the crates won’t fit in a taxi (we don’t own a car here. Yet.)

So the agent calls 12 hours before the plane is due to arrive to tell me that they haven’t been paid and won’t pick the animals up, and consequently they will be left in New York or Amsterdam. What, I say, the agent in New York was supposed to send payment! We only take cash, says the agent in Nairobi.

We take a taxi at a breakneck pace—not really a trick, since all Nairobi taxis go at a breakneck pace—to the importer’s office, pay them $900 (did I mention the customs and service fees?) and sit back to await the joyous reunion at home that night about 11 p.m.

The cat was pretty cool about it. It is uncatlike not to be cool. The dog was immediately on the phone, seeing whether she could get back with Randall and Sharaine.

We thought we had move to a wasteland trackless of dogs. But it turns out that there are dogs everywhere:


One Comment

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  1. Sharaine Roberts / Oct 16 2010 1:41 am

    $1900???? OMG!!!!! $900 MORE?????? Dang, those critters are well-loved! We did enjoy having Sophie and Gypsy here for 10 days … and I DID WEEP when we loaded them into the transporter’s vehicle. Emily misses Sophie something awful and looks forward to seeing her on Skype one day soon.

    Daniel, you write eloquently and beautifully. Keep it coming!!!

    Woof and mew to the critters.

    Love, Sharaine

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