Taking a short week's cruise in the Caribbean is a lot more complicated when traveling with a service dog. For Trooper, I must obtain not only routine paperwork but also items specific to almost every port of call—even if we'll be ashore there only six to eight hours.
We start with an international animal health certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, my vet in Evanston is USDA-certified and knows how to fill it out and get it stamped by the USDA. There are boxes for immunizations and the like. The vet knows about my trip and will give Trooper a checkup and provide the certificate a week or so before we go.
Before then, I must contact the animal services departments of each island on my own.
The first port of call will be Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They're very tough on furry visitors, for the islands are rabies-free and want to keep it that way. As well as the international health certificate, they require that the animal be microchipped (Trooper already is) and that it undergo expensive blood titer tests for possible rabies. If the animal's paperwork is not in order, it must quickly depart—or be euthanized.
I've decided we'll stay aboard ship instead of jumping through those hoops and maybe having to deal with difficult Turks and Caicos officials, as attested to by several comments on pet travel Web sites.
Next comes San Juan in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. The international health certificate is sufficient for us to go ashore. No titer test necessary.
Entering Sint Maarten is a little more complex. It requires that the health certificate and evidence of vaccination be sent to its agriculture department well before arrival and an import permit issued for the animal. No charge, though.
Half Moon Cay is wholly owned by Holland-America, the cruise line we're taking, but we still need a Bahamas import permit, which costs $15 and expires ten days after it is issued.
The voyage itself is only a week long, but Trooper and I have to leave Chicago on the train exactly 11 days before the permit expires. I'm not sure we'll land at Half Moon Cay unless I'm able to persuade the Bahamians to issue a one-day extension.
All this gives me new respect for human members of service dog teams who take long international cruises to dozens of countries and have to deal with all that paperwork and officialdom.