On a chilly Bratislava night in early spring one year ago, waiting at an empty bus stop, far away from my Slovak apartment and far, far away from home, I felt something warm and furry rub against my calf and turned to see a cinder-black kitten with green eyes scuttle under the metal crack between the bus stop and the ground and disappear into the night.
"Here kitty, kitty," I said. Then in Slovak, "Mačka, mačka..."
He (or she, I never discovered its gender, but it struck me as a tom-kitten) returned momentarily to engage me in the feline politics of aloofness/affection: when I reached to pet him, he ran away; when I ignored him he sneaked up behind me, rubbing my legs and purring. I missed one bus building enough trust to pet him, and a second winning the right to pick him up. By the time the third, and last, bus arrived I faced a dilemma familiar to the ex-pat animal lover.
To adopt a pet or to not adopt a pet? It's no simple question. What are the laws in this country? Will its shots and such be expensive? Will my landlord have a fit? What if I move? Can I take it back home without a hassle? How much will that cost?
I boarded alone and watched sadly from the bus's back window as the kitten scurried back into the night.
Now a year later, after a week of pet research, part of me regrets my decision. Owning a pet in Slovakia is a hassle, but not quite of the order I had imagined. A short guide:
All mammalian pets are required by Slovak law to have yearly vaccinations. Note the difference between Slovakia and France (vaccinations mandatory once every two years) and the United States (vaccinations mandatory once every three years). Furthermore, policies vary within EU countries.
Slovak veterinarians (there are nearly 50 veterinarian listings in the Bratislava yellow pages alone) administer triple-vaccination shots (against rabies and two other diseases) for prices that vary but should not exceed 500 crowns.
Slovak law requires owners to register their dogs yearly at the local city office (mestský úrad). The owner pays a fee that varies with the dog's size and the town's regulations. Owners can expect to pay around 1,000 crowns ($20) per dog, according to the animal rights group Sloboda Zvierat (Freedom of Animals).
If you purchase a pet in Slovakia and wish to take it abroad, regulations vary with each country. Contact relevant embassies for details.
A cat or dog must appear healthy under inspection at the point of entry to be permitted to enter the United States. Upon conclusion of the investigation, cats are free to go. Dog owners must produce proof that their pets received rabies vaccinations within the last 30 days. Puppies may enter without vaccinations, but must be confined to a place of the owner's choice until they are three months old, at which time they must be vaccinated immediately.
Monkeys and non-human primates may not enter the United States as pets. Birds must be quarantined at a US Animal Import Centre for thirty days. Arrangements must be made in advance. Pets with wounds should be treated before entering the country.
Great Britain is known to have some of the world's must stringent laws governing the movement of pets. In recent years, restrictions have been loosened for EU countries, but not for Slovakia.
Pets entering Great Britain must be quarantined for a minimum of six months, with a fee of 300 pounds a month. Quarantine arrangements and rules are complicated. Contact the British embassy, or go to the web site www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine/default.htm or call 0044 870 241 1710 for further information.
Transporting pets by air is nearly as costly as flying oneself, especially if you have a large dog (or an unusually fat cat). You will also have to buy a travelling cage for your animal, with a sliding metal door and proper ventilation. Flying a 20 kg dog, for example, by British Airways to New York costs 20,000 crowns ($400), to London 6,000 crowns ($150). Rates vary with dog size.
British Airways also requires rabies vaccinations to have been administered within three days of the flight, and that the pets appear healthy and able to fly. Be sure to ascertain your airline's rules well in advance of your flight.
Most Slovak landlords frown on pets. So if you don't want headaches, be sure your landlord agrees before you purchase an animal. You may take your dog in Slovakia on trains, buses and trams - provided he has a muzzle (náhubok) and is on a leash (voditko). Pets are not generally neutered in Slovakia, although veterinarians will perform the procedure.
If you still want a pet after reading all these rules, and if you don't have a stray cat meowing at your feet, Sloboda Zvierat suggests adopting from a shelter. Bratislava residents will find shelters at Polianky 8, open daily 10:00 to 18:00, tel: 02-16187, and at Rožňavská cesta, open daily 14:00 to 18:00, tel: not available.
Pets may be adopted immediately by anyone older than 18 years of age possessing a leash and collar (obojok). Shelters charge an adoption fee of 350 crowns (200 crowns for cats) and a vaccination fee of 120 crowns.
Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs column will appear on stands August 27, Vol. 7, No. 32.