A few weeks ago I wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian about bringing our cat Butters to Australia from Myanmar via Singapore. I thought it might be helpful to post some photos of the quarantine facility in Singapore on my blog, because I was a lot more apprehensive about it until I saw for myself that are facilities are excellent (as one of my Facebook friends said when he saw a photo, ‘I’ve stayed in hotels a lot worse than that.’) However I definitely recommend requesting a room with a view for your cat, as only half the quarantine cells have them.

Sembawang Animal Quarantine Station in Singapore.

Sembawang Animal Quarantine Station in Singapore.

I accompanied Butters to Singapore and visited her daily during the stipulated visiting hours (yes, it feels a bit like prison).

20161006_180632Here’s a shot of the facilities from the outside. I expected it to look a lot more imposing – it was reassuringly more like a school building. The facilities in Melbourne (the only facilities in Australia) look like a fortress by comparison.

IMG_20161005_180329I was heartened to see so many letters from grateful pet owners sent to Sembawang Quarantine Facility. There’s a lovely staff officer called Roy, a Filipino who is a bit of a cat whisperer. The cats would come charging towards him, meowing for pats whenever he entered, and he knew all their names and personalities. He said that Butters coped well in quarantine, but sadly not all cats do and show signs of depression (ie not eating).

Sembawang Animal Quarantine - ask for a spot on the right, which has windows. The ones on the left don't have any.

Sembawang Animal Quarantine – ask for a spot on the right, which has windows. The ones on the left don’t have any.

Butters with her new 'bunk buddy.'

Butters with her new ‘bunk buddy.’

Butters wasn’t overjoyed to be surrounded by cats, but I think the interaction they can have between the glass gives at least gives them something to think about during otherwise long and boring days.

Making friends.

Making friends.

And at one point she was pretty cute while chasing a mouse with the gorgeously fluffy cat opposite her.

IMG_20161003_145033When Butters arrived in Singapore from Bangkok (we spent six weeks there for reasons too complicated to go into here, but which had nothing to do with Butters) she was taken to Changi Airport’s quarantine station and kept overnight in this tiny cage. There is only one transport service per day between the airport and Sembawang quarantine facility, which is why most pets have to spend at least 12 hours here. I think the facilities should be improved – it’s pretty traumatising for a pet to fly on a plane and then be shunted into such a small space.

Mitchville's facilities for cat boarding

Mitchville’s facilities for cat boarding

This is probably the most important part of my post: if your pet is coming to Australia, it needs to spend 30 days in quarantine, plus an extra 10 in a boarding facility or a private home (anywhere, basically) while the final blood test results are processed in Australia. My husband and I used Mitchville Relopet, and they were going to keep Butters in their “cat boarding facility” for those 10 days. I was so glad I accompanied Butters to Singapore and visited their facilities, which are just a spare room out the back of their offices without windows. The picture above is where they were going to keep Butters for 10 days (for a fee of around SGD$25). As you can see, it’s unacceptable.

A non-air conditioned room at the Pet Boarding Centre in Singapore.

A non-air conditioned room at the Pet Boarding Centre in Singapore.

Staff at Mitchville tried telling me that because Singapore is such a small country, it doesn’t have catteries with bigger spaces (?!). However I visited a couple and found a really good one called Pet Boarding Centre, and paid them, rather than Mitchville to keep Butters for 10 days before her flight to Australia. The photo above is where Butters stayed.

That's Regina of the Pet Boarding Centre, cuddling her charges. She's really lovely.

That’s Regina of the Pet Boarding Centre, cuddling her charges. She’s really lovely.

Pet Boarding Centre has air-conditioned and non-air conditioned rooms (as there were fans and a breeze, we opted for non-air conditioned, though in quarantine she had air conditioning) and Regina sent videos of her playing with Butters every day via Whats App. I don’t think I’ve ever missed Butters so much, seeing those videos, but it was so good to know she was being cared for.

The outdoor play area at Pet Boarding Centre in Singapore.

The outdoor play area at Pet Boarding Centre in Singapore.

It also has an outdoor playing facility – Regina gives each cat a run once or twice a day. At the time, the outdoor play area had about 20 cats in it – they were all owned by a woman who had been evicted from her apartment in Singapore for owning too many cats. They were staying here while she found a new apartment (a tough mission, to be sure…)

IMG_20161004_170347We tried to make Butters as comfy as we could during her 30 days in quarantine. Like guilty parents trying to appease her for what we had to put her through, we bought her a tonne of toys from one of the amazing, and sometimes zany, pet stores in Bangkok (think high fashion outfits and swimming goggles for dogs). As you can see, I lined her bed with a couple of our old t-shirts, as cats are apparently calmed by being able to smell their owners. Everything is destroyed when a cat leaves quarantine – you can’t ask for the toys to travel with your pet to the quarantine facilities in Melbourne (and no visits are allowed).

IMG_20161006_162036Here’s a picture of me and Butters smooching on the floor of her quarantine cell. You don’t need to travel with your cat to quarantine – my husband and I were just being hyper-vigilant, but I’m glad we were.

IMG_20160916_083547Above is a picture of Butters leaving Yangon airport in Myanmar in September 2016. Exporting a pet is a nerve-wracking and costly process – I do recommend hiring a pet relocation company to help you wade through the paperwork and processes, but I also recommend staying on top of things yourself. Check what you’re being charged for also.

Butters at Sydney Airport - finally!

Butters at Sydney Airport – finally!

Here’s a picture of Butters two months later, at Sydney Airport. There were times when it felt like we’d never get to this point, such was the stress of it. It wouldn’t have been a happy time for Butters and it certainly wasn’t for us either (we were so mopey without her!), but as soon as she was reunited with us she showed no signs of being affected by it. She was back to her usual playful self right away. However it’s recommended that you keep your cat inside for at least six weeks after quarantine because they’re a bit disorientated and might run away. Butters is an indoor/balcony cat anyhow, so that wasn’t an issue for us.

For tips on moving a cat in Asia (in this case, from Bangkok to Myanmar), check out my 2012 blog post. Note that countries that have rabies are a lot more relaxed in general for obvious reasons, but it’s infinitely more difficult to then move a pet from a country with rabies to places that are free of it, such as the UK, Japan, Australia and Singapore. It cost us around $7,000 to get Butters to Sydney – that’s no small fee and I do question whether it really needs to cost so much. Pet lovers would pay just about any amount they can afford to keep their cat or dog with them and there were times when I wondered whether the costs have gotten out of control. Anyway, there’s nothing to be done about it I guess and we’re just really happy to have Butters with us in our new home in Australia. I’m also grateful that quarantine in Australia has been cut from six months to 10 days.

Good luck with the pet export process. Remember that one day it will be behind you and you’ll scarcely give it a second thought once it’s over with.