When the Animal Welfare Advocates for Bosnia group asked us if we would be able to transport 15 rescued dogs from Bosnia to the UK I had no hesitation in saying that we would do it.
Having successfully collected and delivered the 15 dogs I would have no hesitation in doing it again.
To keep the costs down we decided to add the Bosnia trip onto an existing Germany transport …….. well that was the plan.
The schedule actually ended up as follows:
7th June: Seville and Malaga
8th June – 12th June: UK transport
13th June – 14th June: Portugal
15th – 16th June: Germany and Italy
17th June – 23rd June: Bosnia and UK.
Not ideal, certainly challenging, but I think the ongoing adrenaline hits kept us going!
Having dropped off in Italy at 4pm on Sunday 16th we headed straight to Bosnia, as we had said we would be there by 9am on Monday, with the original plan to depart at around 10pm on the Monday evening. Beautiful drive to Bosnia. At the border we had a slight hiccup. Although the Internet had confirmed that we passengers didn’t need a visa to get into Bosnia, I had failed to recognise that the can needed a Green Insurance Card. As it was about 3am the border guard provided us with his full range of shrugs, fist pumps, shouts and angry eyes but eventually just handed back the passports and vehicle registration and insurance documents and waved us through. Relived as I was I couldn’t help but feel that this might come back to bite us in the bum later.
As this was a Charter Transport our role, in theory, was to turn up, load the dogs and drive them back. This sounded good to me given the paperwork involved. Not only were all the dogs rescue dogs so having to go through TRACES with a government vet inspection (remember ONLY owned cats and dogs that are registered already to their owner can travel under the Pets Scheme – check out the rules here), but as Bosnia is a non EU country (although they accept the € happily enough) we had to present ourselves and the dogs and their paperwork at a BIP (Border Inspection Point) when entering the EU, which in our case was as we exited Croatia. Although with Croatia die to enter the EU 9 days after we passed through there was some debate as to how they would react.
To make matters worse DEFRA could only provide guidelines on transporting within the EU, we couldn’t find anybody that had transported from Bosnia legally i.e. they were all exploiting the PETS Scheme and claiming the dogs were pets, and the Bosnia authorities were pretty much useless.
So I can’t say it was a surprise to find on the Monday that all the passports were wrong as they hadn’t entered the time for the worming treatment. They were all for just writing this in but as I explained (many times) if a pet passport has an error it MUST be struck out and re done with the vet stamping and signing the changes. If a pet passport looks like it has been altered by an individual then there is every chance it will be rejected at pet passport control. Mistakes happen at the vets, but the vet can correct them and sign and stamp so is no problem.
Anyway the plan on Monday had been for my two co-drivers to check into a hotel and sleep most of the day, and I would grab a kip in the afternoon before collecting the dogs. In the end I managed 90 mins in the hotel by the time all the Health Certificates, Passports and TRACES certificates had been checked (and in most cases corrected).
We got the first three dogs on board no problem but when we were loading the next batch I couldn’t find the microchip in one dog, and another had the wrong chip compared to it’s passport.
No other option other than to abort the transport for that night, return the dogs, find another hotel, get some food and plan what to do the next day.
My decision was to go and check all the other dogs to ensure their chips were ok so we knew how large a problem we had. Next we had to get the two dogs sorted with regards their chips and passports. Then we had to get the Health Certificates redone, and by some good fortune I decided to check all the adoption certificates and Declarations to transport documents as the above changes needed to be updated, only to find a pretty huge hole in the paperwork. Long story short it took the rescue girls and myself 7 hours to sort them all out, so while my co-drivers got some sleep I only managed a couple of hours.
We had arranged for a couple of the girls from the rescue centers to drive with is to the Croatian border in case we had any issues with the dogs or language getting into Slovenia.
With all the dogs on board we set off around midnight, having been told to be at the BIP between 8am and 4pm as that was when the vet was on duty.
First drama came at the Bosnia customs. Having queued and paid 5€ for a piece of paper from a guy in a uniform that I still have no idea what it was for we presented ourselves at customs only be told that we we were only allows 5 animals per vehicle, not per person. Despite paperwork to prove this wasn’t the case the customs guys were adamant. Matters not helped by the fact that I didn’t have the Green Insurance Card either! After 30 mins it seemed the deal was that if I went to a little hut and paid the man 52€ for the Green Card (well a white form in this case) we could pass through. While I always though the lack of the Green Card might be a problem I think it actually worked for us in this instance …… gave then something to get us on and get some money out of us!
No issues at the other borders and so we approached the BIP at around 8.15am with a certain amount of anticipation aka apprehension. Convinced as I was that the paperwork was 100% there was a lingering doubt as nobody had been able to tell us 100% what was required.
In the event we handed over the passports, opened the van while they checked the dogs, waited while they had a chat in the office and then, expecting to be directed to the Vets Office we were waived through. That was it, we were in the EU. I was certainly surprised that it had been that ‘easy’ but the view was clear: we have done everything that we were asked to do and they have sent us on our way, why question it!
The main purpose of the BIP was to allow them to enter the dogs details onto the TRACES system for the EU. I am not sure if they had decided that has they were almost within the EU it didn’t matter, or they couldn’t be bothered, or they didn’t know but it certainly wasn’t our fault and I have never been that keen on telling people with guns that they don’t know their job!
Of course this could present a problem at Calais, but as we had all the pet passports, health certificates for each dog, and the declaration from the new owners saying that we had their permission to transport their dog I couldn’t see what problem we would have.
In addition we were arriving at Calais at 12.30am so nobody was actually in the office. We had to get a pet passport officer sent over, and they processed the dogs without a hitch.
So that was it, we had done it. Got the dogs out of Bosnia and into the UK, where we were able to deliver them all safe and sound to their new owners, before heading home for a well earned rest.
So what of Bosnia?
With 30,000 stray dogs (I think that was the number) they have a huge problem, but they are doing something about it. They were in the middle of sterilizing 5,000 as part of a Government funded scheme, and in general the strays that we saw were in pretty good shape. Many were living on the streets, integrated with everyday life, and people seemed very accepting of them, and happy for people to feed them on the street.
Don’t get me wrong we saw some terrible signs of abuse and neglect and some truly disturbing sights and stories, but ‘speak as you find’ it wasn’t as horrific as I had imagined.
As for Bosnia I loved it. What I loved most was it was it’s own country! It had it’s flaws but they were it’s flaws, not EU imposed ones. It was great to be in a country with it’s own currency. With 63% youth unemployment, a typical salary been 200€ a month and political system more corrupt than even Spain it is a tough place to live, and the the people we met were all struggling to find jobs, but were doing amazingly well rescuing the stray dogs and cats (although didn’t see that many cats). It was refreshing not to be surrounded by Franchises and Corporate Brands, and it seems set to remain that way as the general view was that Bosnia wouldn’t want to be in the EU even if it was allowed as the politicians couldn’t afford to gee up their power aka corruption.
The enforced extended stay gave us an opportunity to spend more time with our hosts and it was extremely educational. I was horrified at the story of a recent baby that wasn’t allowed through customs to go for a much needed operation. Despite being in an ambulance, with doctors the customs thought that the baby was being sold on. By the time they had capitulated and allowed the baby through it had died. All because, it seems, babies aren’t allowed to have ID cards in Bosnia so in effect they don’t exist.
Would I go back? In an instant! It was remarkably humbling, yet extremely rewarding to see the looks on the new owners faces. They had waited up to 6 months for these dogs. And of course the dogs. To see them safe and sound with their new owners is what it is all about. The long hours, the boring paperwork the bitchiness in the rescue world (yes even in Bosnia) are nothing compared to the photos and feedback from the new owners about the dogs.
I have said it before and I will say it again, and no doubt many times in the future. We have the easy bit. Driving may be tough but we are in a comfortable van, with food, and the dogs are safe and secure in their cages. The real heroes are and always will be the rescue centers, the re-homing organisations and the adoptants. To them, as ever, a HUGE thank you!