Pack a Pup (and Your Patience): A Guide to Adopting a Dog From a Foreign Country

Pet Travel

While tourists typically leave behind the loves they find while on holiday, a Toronto family was not about to abandon the affectionate puppy they fell in love with during their vacation in the Dominican Republic. Photo: damedeeso/Getty Images

Seashells and sand dollars are the souvenirs beachcombers usually bring home from vacations. 

Teia Eagar, 49, and her daughter Ava, 22, brought home a living, hairy, tail-wagging souvenir: a stray dog they found on the beach. Or, as Teia insists, “She found us.”

While tourists typically leave behind the loves they find while on holiday, the Eagars were not about to abandon the affectionate little black and white puppy they fell in love with during their week-long vacation in the Dominican Republic in early April.

“She started following us and my daughter was begging me to take her home,” recalls Eagar, who lives in a condo in downtown Toronto overlooking the lake.  “We weren’t looking for a dog at all. We have two spoiled Siamese cats.

“But there was something special about her and the fact that she chose us. She literally followed us around.”

By the third day of their week-long holiday at Grand Paradise Samana, they were sneaking the dog they named Samana into their room. Looking after a dog and scrutinizing import/export regulations wasn’t how they planned to spend their holiday. Teia, a single mother and real estate agent, and her daughter, a student, were vacationing with a group of 18 people — old friends and their families. They were at an all-inclusive resort for a week of relaxing, socializing and enjoying the sea, sand and sun. However, canine life intruded. 

“There was a pack of homeless dogs begging for burgers on the beach,” recalls Teia. “They seemed to have a pretty good life. Everybody would go to the beach bar and get chicken or hotdog and feed them. They were all quite charming and friendly and they knew how to approach people, who was approachable and who wasn’t.”

But it was Samana they fell in love with.

“We saw how sociable she was with dogs and people,” says Teia. She didn’t look like the others. She still looked like a puppy.”

Falling in Love Was the Easy Part


As any animal lover who has ever thought about bringing home a stray dog or cat from the Caribbean, Europe or Middle East knows, the obstacles can be formidable. First, the Eagars checked with Samuel Vasquez, the very helpful resort manager, who made inquiries and informed them that nobody owned Samana, that she was just one of the stray beach dogs. That settled it.

On day four, they went into action, trying to figure out how to get her home and to decipher the rules and regulations. It’s complicated, Teia explained. But as an experienced real estate agent, she knew how to read the fine print.

Canada recently put restrictions on commercial pet imports; rescue dogs coming into Canada for adoption are considered commercial imports. As well, rescue dogs from countries with high rates of rabies — including the Dominican Republic— are not allowed into Canada.

The only restriction for bringing your own pet into Canada, however, is that they’ve had a rabies shot. So Teia had to make sure it was understood that she owned Samana and not that she was bringing in a rescue dog who would be adopted.

Next was the problem of exporting a dog from the Dominican Republic. “She had to stay in quarantine there for 30 days before she could leave the country,” Teia explained. That was, let’s say, easier said than done …

“I’m calling all the rescues,” she recalls. “‘What can I do? How can I board?’” Worse luck, “It was a holy week and everything was shut down.”

She found a vet online who, she said, “mansplained to me that this was a dirty dog and I should get a dog from my own country.”

Frustrated and determined, she was adamant: “Somebody must care that I love her and want to give her a good life.”

Finally, the resort manager found a taxi driver, his friend, who was willing to drive Teia — and the dirty dog — all over the island for five hours to find a vet who would board the dog for 30 days, neuter her, microchip her and give her all the shots she needed. Her persistence led her to Lucilu and her husband Elias, veterinarians who run Coco Vets in Las Terrenas. 

“They boarded Samana in their own home and let her hang out with them in the clinic during the day.” The total cost: US$700.

Teia, her daughter and the dog. Photo: Courtesy of the author


Flying the Not-so-Dog-Friendly Skies


Next came the transportation issue. “I kept trying to book her on Air Transat,” she says. “My dog reservation would be accepted and then refunded, which led me to learn that the new rules on importing commercial pet ‘rescues’ were not being respected. 

“People were trying to bring in rescue dogs from Mexico, St. Lucia, other places, for adoption in Canada and saying they were their own pet dogs to get them in. And many of these dogs were not in good condition,” she says.

Transat spokesperson Marie-Christine Pouliot advises, “Dogs from countries with a high risk of rabies are not allowed into Canada. Unfortunately, the Dominican Republic is on this list.” (For complete information on the airline’s policy, including exceptions for service dogs, go here.)

Trying to find an airline that would transport Samana took “endless hours,” says Teia, “calling air carriers, booking tickets, only to have them cancel my dog reservation. I had to burn a couple of tickets.”

As well, there was a heat restriction on allowing dogs in cargo that kicked in on May 1 for some airlines and May 15 for others, so at that point there was also a race against time and, she says, “a lot of information to find out.”

First, she went to the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), which provides lists of transporters. “Five were rip-offs,” she says. “One wanted US$5,000.” Using Google Translate, she then reached out to a Spanish company who charged her US$1,500 and “were amazing.”

At the end of April, Teia flew back to the Dominican Republic for a few days to finalize the arrangements. “The same taxi driver picked me up and we got Samana from the boarding place. Then I had to go to Santo Domingo to have the export papers approved and then to a Dominican vet to approve her for travel,” she says. “There was lots of paperwork.”

At last, after a change of planes in Panama, Samana arrived in Toronto on May 15. But there was still more bureaucracy to deal with.

“My daughter and I were at the airport (Pearson) from one in the morning until 4 a.m. We had to drive to the customs office to prove that Samana was our dog, that all our receipts were strictly for her and that we did not pay anyone for the dog. The end result? “Canada didn’t say no to Samana — but it was a challenge.”

It was also a challenge to convince her incredulous father that she wasn’t crazy to bring a stray dog home from vacation.

“My father said, ‘What did you do?!?’ I told him, ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with. I found love on vacation. I could have come home with a husband!’”

The little dog from the Dominican Republic has fit into the Eagar’s life beautifully, romping with other neighbourhood dogs in the park adjacent to the condo building and quickly learning how to walk nicely on a leash.

As for the two cats, Teia says, “They hate her.”