Bringing a puppy home from Cyprus to Norway

A story about finding our puppy involving breeder wars, Mattilsynet and Toll, flights in the time of Corona, and finally travelling home.

The process of getting a dog is usually a long one – as it should be. You take time to decide whether it’s the right time to bring home a dog, decide on the type of dog, prepare by doing research and planning, and you carefully find the right dog.

The right time

Ever since moving to Norway, I have been looking at dogs but I knew it wasn’t the right time (yet). After we moved to Tønsberg in December last year, it became more feasible to get a dog. Life used to be filled with exciting plans and hobbies, but this has not been the case for various reasons since we moved to Norway. After Corona hit the world and I subsequently postponed/cancelled my plans to get my PPL, the future plan of getting a dog was moved forward. And finally, after getting a new role at work that would allow me to work from home more, it was finally and definitely the right time to get a dog!

The type of dog

I love all dogs. But not all dogs are a good fit for us (now). As we may not be staying in Norway forever and we would love to travel and include our dog, we were looking for a small dog that can travel in-cabin. However, most small dogs were not much to our liking; either they are snub-nosed (which I’m ethically against and they are also increasingly prohibited from flying – for their own good), or they come with a strong working dog instinct and/or high energy level, or they are dogs that we just don’t find that cute (Pachal would even say they look retarded – not their fault of course).
In 2017, while working at Skydive Texel, a family visited with their dog Loutje. Loutje was a Greek rescue dog and he was adorable! The owners even sent me a card afterwards with photos “because I loved him so much”.

Only last year, I realised Loutje was a Kokoni-mix. Kokonis are small dogs without a working dog instinct, medium energy level and low barking tendency – they are pretty much perfect! Plus, they look absolutely adorable. The only problem was that we are living in Norway and by law it is illegal to import a rescue animal to Norway (see previous blog post). So, the only way we could get a Kokoni was to get one from an official breeder in Greece. And so, against my ethical beliefs, I started getting in touch with breeders.

Breeders…

I asked several people about recommended breeders. Almost all agreed that X was the number one recommendation. Y was also a good breeder. And by doing my own research, I also found Z.
I started by contacting X, but he did not reply to my message.
I went on to contact Y, who told me she may have a litter later this year and would know more by summertime. We were not in a hurry, so we could wait and stay in touch.
I contacted Z, who told me his dam was in heat and he would be expecting puppies this summer! Great!

However, a few days after talking to Z, X responded to my message. He had a litter already and he would consider us to get one of his puppies. As X was the most recommended breeder, I decided to cancel on Z. He took it seemingly well. We talked further with X and he showed us a photo of the mother dog with four little puppies. We expressed interest in a male brown puppy (we always seem to have a slight preference for the brown/golden pups) with a white sock and after some weeks, he told us we could have him! We were delighted! But as time went on, we did not get many updates and by the time we got another picture, the puppy turned out to be black and white. It was not what we thought we signed up for, but ok. A few days later, he tells us that the puppy, who is by then about a month old, gets angry when you tease him. I did not think this was normal puppy behaviour. I reached out confidentially to Y, to ask if this behaviour is normal in young Kokoni puppies. We had a phone call and she told me it may be a translation issue and that it was probably a miscommunication. I was hoping that was it. Then, she told me she has a female puppy that she is not sure if she will keep for her breeding programme. She sent me photos and she looked so sweet and adorable! However, she had an umbilical hernia which was supposedly harmless. After this phone call, I realised my feelings towards the female puppy from Y was much stronger than my feelings towards the male puppy from X, even though we preferred a male pup. And that made us second-guess our decision. We decided to cancel on X and explained why. I said we will wait for his next litter or one from Y, and he responded that Y is a good breeder and friend of his. So, this felt right.

I got in touch with Y again and asked for a photo of the umbilical hernia, which I forwarded to my vet friend. My friend told me that it’s not an umbilical hernia, but an inguinal hernia, which is more serious. After talking to Y about this, she told me that we could always come back to Greece to do the surgery there, but she did not offer to pay for the surgery. She also told me her vet can move the date of birth backwards so that the puppy could travel sooner. I did not want any of that. But as I also did not want to reject a puppy solely for a medical defect, I researched the costs for surgery in Norway (which turned out to be between €1000-2000). We thought, if the puppy would merely have a symbolic price, we would have still travelled down to pick her up, based on her actual date of birth of course. But, without any shame or hesitation, Y said she asked €900 for her. So, she was applying a foreigner/export tax on a puppy with a medical defect? No, thank you! (Usually a healthy Kokoni puppy with pedigree costs €300-600.)
If X and Y are good friends and they are the most recommended breeders with these kinds of practices, I want nothing to do with them.

So, I contacted Z again, who was understandably hesitant. Then he told me four or five puppies will be born at the beginning of July and that if I wanted, I could make a reservation. There were many interested people, he said, so silly enough, I made a reservation without knowing what the puppies would be like and I paid a €400 deposit. I continued loving all the FB posts from Z – and I think X must have seen that (or it has come on his radar for another reason). But suddenly, X publicly started a rant about new Kokoni breeders, judging their choices and practices. Z then responded on his own FB page, defending himself. Upon which, X shared his judging opinion again… What kind of Greek breeder drama was this?! Luckily, it quickly passed. When Z’s puppies were born, all female, there was one brown puppy and we both liked her. Unfortunately, the person with the first choice reservations picked that puppy as well. And as no other puppies from the litter made our hearts beat faster, we decided to wait for the next litter.

Finding the perfect puppy

While we were waiting for Z’s puppies to be born, I saw a post in one of the Kokoni FB groups from the owner of Fiona, a super adorable Kokoni with upright ears (so not a Kokoni according to the breed standard, but who really cares about that? I don’t…) was pregnant! I told Pachal then what a pity it was that we were waiting for Z’s puppies. We have loved Fiona since the first photo we saw of her, when we joined the Kokoni groups in 2019.
Now that things didn’t work out with any of the breeders, I looked up Fiona’s owner on FB and I saw that Fiona had just delivered six gorgeous little puppies the day before! My heart beat so fast and I fell so much love for them all!
I contacted the owner, who is not a breeder but a regular family man, and I introduced myself. I asked if any of the puppies are still available and if he would consider us, even though we live in Norway. I even sent in a “Puppy Application” in PDF, detailing everything about us; who we are, how and where we live, how we would raise and train our puppy, etc. He then told us that he would love to give us one of the puppies! We were OVER THE MOON! This troublesome process all along was just to prevent us from getting a puppy we didn’t really want. And now, we would finally get our dream puppy from Cyprus! When I asked the owner how much he asked for the puppies, his response was “I don’t take payment for my babies”. It is truly not about the money, but this attitude showed us even more that they are good people who do not see their dogs as commercial goods and who only want the best for their dogs and puppies.
I decided to travel there twice; once before to meet them all and to “witness” the anti-rabies vaccination (as an extra safety net for Mattilsynet), and again three weeks later with Pachal to pick up our puppy. I booked the flights immediately.
The fact that the puppy comes from a family and from parent dogs that have never been strays, means that the puppy is allowed into Norway.
We didn’t feel right about having to buy from a breeder as we preferred to rescue all along. But this is the closest thing to rescuing within the limits of Norway’s law against foreign rescue animals. Plus, the puppies are raised in the living room with mom and dad; what a perfect start! The owner continued to send me photos and videos of our puppy and of parents Fiona and Freddy, who are the funniest and cutest dogs! This just felt so right!
I contacted Z again, informing him that we can be removed from the waitlist and that we do not request the deposit back. But then he started attacking me about my choices and telling me to wait it out before making a decision. I only regret making a decision too quickly about paying him that deposit. His attitude shows me again why breeders are usually not my kind of people.

Mattilsynet and Toll

I had been in touch with Mattilsynet (the Norwegian Food Safety Authority – that deals with import of animals too) and Toll (the Norwegian Customs Service) to make sure all requirements will be met and that I can do everything possible to make the journey home smooth.
However, Mattilsynet and Toll were not always that clear about the requirements. For example, to prove that the puppy and parent dogs were not and have never been strays, they could not give me examples of what kind of proof they want. There are timeline photos and videos dating all the way back to Freddy being a puppy in 2012 and I also have another source confirming that Fiona came from her friends and that they have both parents and kept a brother and a sister (photos and videos included). This is hopefully good enough.
I told them I will travel to Cyprus to document the anti-rabies vaccination and I asked them what I can further document in detail in order to make sure the proof would be accepted as truthful. I asked if a video, showing the label of the vaccination, the vaccination being administered to our puppy by a vet, the microchip reading of our puppy and the corresponding microchip number in the EU pet passport, would be sufficient. And if not, what I can do to make sure it will be. They could not answer that question and told me to contact them again after my first trip to Cyprus – which would be after the fact, so I wouldn’t be able to gather additional proof. The pure fact I had to anticipate the suspicion is crazy, as the EU pet passport with documentation of the anti-rabies vaccination should be enough. But I have heard first-hand and read other horror stories about Mattilsynet not trusting the foreign papers and putting the animal in quarantine (for an undefined period of time) – and after several weeks and payment of 20,000 NOK (over €2,000), you can come collect your traumatised pet. I do NOT want that to happen and will travel to the Netherlands with our pup, if necessary! That was my plan B.
Toll was not much better. Although the owner does not want payment for our pup, Toll wants an official valuation of our pup, even though our pup has no pedigree and Kokonis are not a recognised breed in Cyprus. I also had to keep all receipt of costs for the export of the puppy (veterinary receipts). If the amount would go over the threshold of 6,000 NOK, we would be taxed 25%. Although I find it completely ridiculous to tax the value of a pet(!), this is the least of our concerns when travelling home.

Flights in the time of Corona

Initially, five flights were booked for the two trips from Norway to Cyprus (one at 12 weeks and one at 15 weeks when we pick up our puppy). In the meantime, we of course monitored the Corona situation in various countries. Also, airlines decided to cancel certain flights. By the end of it, seven flights had been cancelled and and the trip would eventually involve nine flights. Contrary to EU recommendations, Norway also considers transfers in a country as having visited a country, so we had to monitor the situation extra carefully.

In the end, I had to take one test prior to travelling (for Cyprus) and two tests upon return (for Norway). Travelling in these times wasn’t pleasant and I wouldn’t have done it for fun. But this was for our pup, Skye, and I wanted everything to go smoothly. It was amazing to visit her and meet the Yiatrou family, who have been so lovely and wonderful in raising the puppies – not to mention the parent dogs! It felt like coming home in a way. Skye was timid at first, but was quickly convinced once she got some treats. Leaving her behind wasn’t easy, but I knew I would be back less than three weeks later.

While preparing for the big trip to finally pick Skye up, Pachal received a call from HR the day before departure that he would need to be 10 days in quarantine if he would go to Cyprus, even though the Norwegian COVID-19 laws and regulations state nothing about the purpose of travel out (only the purpose of travel in). That would also mean no income from his side for the month. So, last minute, we had to alter our plans.

I travelled to Cyprus, picked up Skye and drove to an AirBnb that I booked for five days – for Skye to get accustomed to me and her carrier before travel. I’m so happy I did that. The Yiatrou family came to visit a day later and saw Skye was already getting attached to me. They were relieved and it all felt right. Since the vet is also five minutes away from them and I had to take Skye there a day before the flight, I visited them with Skye the day before leaving – Skye had a great time playing with her brother Junior. Freddy didn’t miss Skye at all (he seemed confused where the puppies came from and why they were bothering him so much) and Fiona seemed scared at first, but then played with Skye after some time. It was great spending our last day in Cyprus with the family and I think they liked it as well.

Travelling home

I had anticipated every hiccup possible, but everything went smoothly! Skye was so comfortable in her carrier, she slept on her back with all paws up while waiting at the gate. During take-off and landing, I noticed she moved around a bit, but during the flight, she was sleeping. She didn’t cry, didn’t bark. She was an amazing puppy!
While the first flight was slightly delayed, I made my connection in Frankfurt and was relieved the second flight was a shorter one. During the transfer, I had sneaked into the baby changing room with Skye and put out a puppy pad for her. She didn’t want to relieve herself, so after a bit of sniffing, stretching her legs and of course cuddles, I put her back in the carrier. In the end, she managed to hold everything up until we got home! Crazy, but perhaps she wasn’t comfortable enough in those strange environments.

I was most nervous about passing customs, knowing that if they wouldn’t believe the papers or me, the consequences would be big. I prepared as if it was a law suit. Upon arrival in the red channel to declare ‘goods’, I followed the signs for animals, which led to a desk without anyone there. So, I looked around and saw two customs officers behind the window. I made my way to one of them. I told him I have a puppy. He asked for the pet passport, which I gave to him. He checked some dates and the entries in the passport and then came from behind the booth with a microchip reader. He scanned the carrier (I didn’t even have to take Skye out) and that was ok. Then, he asked about some documentation. I explained the situation that she was given to me by a family and we had made up a contract that detailed everything, and that was ok. I showed him some Kokoni ads on Greek websites (without pedigree, so they were selling the puppies for €100-150) and that was ok too. And that was it, I could proceed with Skye! I was very surprised. Someone told me that she often imports pedigree dogs from abroad and the check takes at least an hour! Perhaps it was because Mattilsynet was not at their table and I only talked to Toll. Perhaps because my flight arrived around midnight, I don’t know. But, I was happy it wasn’t a hassle and Skye had made it to Norway safe and sound!

Recommendations for pet import

Now it’s been ten days that Skye arrived and she’s doing well! I knew she would need a lot of socialisation in her new environment, but perhaps I did not know or understand the level of fear a puppy could have – especially since she is otherwise a very calm and relaxed puppy. We took it slowly and it’s getting much better day by day. It took some time for her to accept Pachal as not a stranger and I made the mistake of letting him walk her once – she came back more afraid than before. Big lesson. Fearful puppies need their main caregiver with them to conquer fears. So now, I’ll do everything until the basic things are no longer scary.

I am really happy I decided to travel to Cyprus twice. At least she met me already before she was taken away from her family by me. I can only imagine how much more afraid she would have been. Sometimes I see people asking for foreign puppy adoptions and asking for the puppy to be shipped to wherever they are. I would like to stress how scary it is for a puppy (or even an adult dog) to go through the stress of travel – especially when they are alone. If you can, please travel to your pet and travel back together. Spend some days together and have your pet get used to the carrier before you make the trip back. And feed lots of treats – food doesn’t always work, but it can help a great deal in turning something scary into something acceptable.