HONOLULU — When military families move to a new duty station, those with four-legged family members can face additional challenges; but it doesn’t have to be frustrating.
Maj. Meghan Louis, a veterinarian and director of veterinary services at Public Health Command-Pacific, explains how U.S. Army veterinarians are critical in providing the necessary documents for travel and are committed to providing expert advice, based on scientific knowledge, on animal health and welfare when it comes to traveling with pets.
Her best recommendation for anyone preparing to PCS with pets? Start with your veterinarian and start early.
“As soon as you know you’re moving, contact your nearest veterinary treatment facility to schedule an appointment to discuss required vaccinations and testing prior to travel,” said Louis.
There are 29 VTFs located throughout the Pacific located on Army, Air Force, Space Force, Navy and Marine Corps installations. These facilities are an important benefit for service members and their families and can be accessed by both active duty and retired personnel living both on and off post.
“The client-veterinarian relationship is really a partnership,” said Louis. “If the animals stay up-to-date with vaccines, appointments, and testing, then when it comes time to PCS, your installation veterinarian can more easily issue that health certificate.”
Regardless of PCS location, every pet needs a valid health certificate. This includes microchipping, up-to-date rabies vaccinations, and fecal and heartworm testing.
“There is some misconception and fear from families about health certificates and if our veterinarians will issue them,” said Louis. “This document is stating your pet is free of any apparent communicable disease.”
Last year, installation veterinarians issued over 29,000 health certificates for beneficiaries across the Department of Defense.
Every U.S. Army Veterinarian is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture to examine pets and issue health certificates for travel. A USDA endorsement is required, in addition to a health certificate, for travel outside the contiguous United States.
Louis adds that the specialization of Army veterinarians comes into play with international moves because of VTF locations on installations around the world, knowledge of timelines for testing and obtaining health certificates, and specific regulations of rabies-free locations.
“Depending on appointment availability and flight dates, your installation veterinarian can work out the best date of health certificate issue that takes into consideration potential flight delays and even cancellations, said Louis”
While it is the responsibility of the pet owner to coordinate travel for their pets, Louis explains that installation veterinarians should be considered a resource and can provide an array of expert opinions to help owners make informed decisions when traveling with pets.
“We want to address any concerns and educate owners on the risks of traveling specific to their pets prior to PCSing,” said Louis. “Even the healthiest of pets are at risk when traveling due to an unfamiliar environment, so we’ll work with owners to provide recommendations and take the proper precautions to minimize those risks.”
She reiterates that the process of moving with pets can sometimes be overwhelming, but that’s more reason to discuss upcoming projected travel and any medical concerns early with your installation veterinarian as soon as you know you will be moving with your pet.
“We’re service-oriented and exist for readiness, and that includes family readiness, and fully acknowledge that our pets are part of our families, and their health is important to us,” said Louis.
For a listing of VTFs by location, please view the interactive map on the Defense Centers for Public Health - Aberdeen website.