My Mum is the risk assessor of the family. We’ve always joked that risk assessment should’ve been her vocation in life as she can think of every single eventuality. The logistics of getting humans abroad in their own vehicle is manic enough but getting dogs abroad as well is a whole different story. I think it is very fair to say that because Mum is constantly on lookout we seem to ‘smoothly’ and successfully to get two humans and two dappy dogs from point A in England to point B in central Portugal via cruise ferry every time.
My parents tend to travel on the Pont-Aven ferry with Brittany Ferries so I’d like to think that other people can use the information below for their own sailings. If anyone has any questions about taking your dog abroad, particularly the sailing, then please contact me and I’ll add it to this post with an answer. Here’s a picture of a Pont-Aven cruise ferry taken from the Brittany Ferries website.
Here are some of the things that were keeping Mum awake at night:
- What if my dog’s microchip details are incorrect?
Mum spent a whole day worrying about the microchips for the dogs. She needed to change Scrappy’s details but we needed written consent from Scrappy’s original owner who had since moved far away. In the end Mum called Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and they found out who had the ‘key’ for Scrappy’s microchip, which was Petlog. Mum then called Petlog and they resolved the address problem for a small fee. Speak to your vet about these kind of issues if you have more concerns as the microchips need to tally up with the pet passports.
- What vaccinations do they need and what are pet passports?
You will need to speak to your vet but take a look at this article and hopefully it will help you out.
- Does my dog need to wear a muzzle on the ferry?
The ferry service we used said that dogs must wear muzzles when travelling from your vehicle up to the kennels. They don’t need muzzles on when being walked on the dog deck. As to whether this is enforced depends entirely on whoever controls the elevator up to the dog deck. On once occasion it was a scary French lady who simply wouldn’t let you into the lift without a muzzle and on another occasion we had a young French lad who looked terrified of the dogs and didn’t challenge anyone.
You might think ‘I can’t bare to put a muzzle on my little snuggles’ but when you’re in a lift with three fully grown rottweilers, you’ll be glad that the rule was enforced.
- What are the kennels like? Someone said that they were open air! Ahh!
Someone told Mum that they were open air. That was enough for her to have visions of Scrappy jumping out and into the sea and drowning. This also lead into the thought that the dogs would get too cold or even too hot. It turned out that they were all enclosed inside and they were a good temperature (not too cold and not too hot). Some dog owners actually sleep on the bench outside the cages because they can’t bare to sleep without their pets.
- Does the ferry service provide any bedding for dogs? Should I bring their bedding with me? What about water and food bowls?
Yes, bring your dogs bedding otherwise it’s a cold flat floor for them to sleep on. It’s a stainless steel floor so please don’t forget some bedding! They’ll probably relax a lot more if they have some home comforts as well. You will need to bring food bowls as well as only water bowls are provided. See below for an example. Poppy has her best ‘don’t… leave… me…’ face on.
- What if they need to go to the toilet when they’re in the kennel?
Poppy is so fussy she will hold it in until she can find somewhere very private, so Mum spent a lot of time worrying about Poppy’s toilet habits. It boiled down to one thing: if your dog poops in it’s cage then you are expected to clean up after your dog. Fortunately dogs won’t tend to poop where they sleep so you should be okay. The same goes for when you take your dog for a walk on Deck 10. The dogs will be expected to do their number one-and-two business straight onto the deck. The crew will provide plastic bags on the side and will hose down the deck every morning. I would strongly advise against being beneath Deck 10 when this happens.
- Does my dog need to be on a lead the whole time?
On the ferry your dog will need to be on a lead when going from the car to the Deck where the kennels are and upon return. Whilst walking your dog on the deck they do not need to be on a lead, but I would highly recommend that you put them on a lead as I seriously doubt they will stop the ferry to collect a dog over aboard. Of course, once your dog is inside its kennel they will not need to be on a lead.
- Where do I walk my dogs? Can I walk them at 4am in the morning?
Yes, of course you can walk your dog at 4am at the morning if you really want to but you’ll probably wake up every single dog in the kennel block. You can access the kennels at any time provided that you have a card pass (one per dog, given to owners before they board). There is a whole deck allocated to dog walking, which was Deck 10 on my parent’s ferry. There are no rules on whether dogs have to be on leads or not, but Scrappy was always on a lead because he’s so naughty. Oh wait…
This is a photo of Deck 10, the dog walking deck. There are only steps between Deck 9 and 10, so you will need to carry your dog if they are not very mobile.
This is to the area to the right of the above photo.
- What if the weather is bad when we’re sailing?
What if the weather is bad when you’re at home and the dog wants a walk? The chances are that your dog is smart enough to not want to get wet and so will hold it in and not ask for a walk, but sometimes if they’ve gotta go then you’ve gotta go. My parents didn’t have bad weather on their sailing but I can imagine that if it is so bad that it poses a risk to safety then they will not allow people out on deck, so it’ll be just tough and your dogs will have to cross their little legs.
- What if someone breaks into the kennels and steals my precious snuckums (and then throws them overboard)?
Unless your dog is a yappy shih tzu then I promise I won’t throw it overboard. Err… what I mean is… you get a paper access card that only dog owners get. You get one per dog. On the bright side, if someone stole your dog then they either throw it overboard (I don’t know what that would achieve) or they’d hide it somewhere on the ferry. All you’d need to do is search the entire ferry, easy.
- When we first get on the boat how do I get my dog to the kennels?
Dog owners are first on the ferry (they get their own queue) and must immediately take their dogs into the lift and up to the kennels on the top floors. Don’t forget your bedding! My parents normally do two trips up to the dog deck, first with the dogs and then with the bedding and food.
- What if the other dogs on the ferry bark a lot or are nasty? What if Poppy or Scrappy get bitten? What if Poppy or Scrappy bark too much themselves?
It’s luck of the draw which kennel your dogs will get, sorry. When my parents made their sailing on the way over they were next to lots of barky dogs but on the way back it was very quiet. You might be able to negotiate a swap with someone else but who wants to be next to the yappy dog?
- What happens when you arrive at Santander? Where can you walk the dogs as soon as they get off the boat?
The arrival at Santander is fantastic. It used to be that you came out straight into the centre of Santander but now what they do is direct the cars along the coast and straight onto the motorway. In terms of places to stop, I would advise you to start making tracks and get at least half an hour away from Santander and you’ll find loads of little picnic kind of areas along the side of the road you can stop at.
- What if they get eaten by a giant snake or attacked by wild dogs? Poppy and Scrappy don’t speak Portuguese so they’d have no chance against them!
It’s a chance you’ll have to take if you’re going to let your dogs off the lead. We had a few forests near us that we only walked the dogs in. For the first week or so we kept them on the lead then let them off later once we felt safer, but you never know who or what they’ll meet. We’ve not seen any wild dogs in Portugal, every dog was either on a lead or tied up. However, a wild boar with young babies is definitely going to be a bad day for you if your dog meets it.
Our dogs met lots of interesting creatures while they were out there. One was a genet and the other was a hoopoe. They’ve even met a raccoon! The genet ran away too fast for Scrappy to catch it and the hoopoe was high enough in the tree that Scrappy quickly lost interest.
- What if the dogs get bitten? There are flees and mosquitos that will bite dogs. They might even get a tick infestation!
We spoke to our UK vet about this and she gave us some flee tablets that also put off mosquitos and ticks. We also bought our two dogs flea collars while we were in Portugal which were a little costly, about €20 each and they last for 6 months, but gave us a bit more reassurance.
- What else do I need to worry about?
There were countless of other things that Mum worried about, such as: the dogs escaping or getting stolen, one of them jumping into the swimming pool while it was empty, the journey being too long for them or them getting ill abroad. For these things you just need to take them in your stride and keep a close eye on them and know where your nearest qualified vet is.
If you have any questions please e-mail me @ [email protected] :)