Bella and Abby move to London

Written by Caroline Kamana

We’d always wanted to add dogs to our family and intended to adopt rescue dogs when we got to the point at which we could open our home to furry friends. And we knew that if we ever had to move, they would be coming with us.

We wanted a pair

I’d grown up with Spaniels and so we contacted Spaniel Welfare SA – we wanted a pair and hoped they could match us with some dogs. Lesley-Ann Marshall from Spaniel Welfare SA came to visit us at home in July 2016 to do the home check and we discussed what might work in terms of our family and lifestyle.

Of course, the most important aspect of the match was that the dogs had to love children.

In September 2016, we headed off to Sasolburg. We were going to meet two dogs – each was in its own foster home but they’d spent a few days together initially and seemed to get on well.

Meeting the girls

Bella (previously Peaches), a female Cocker Spaniel, had been living on the streets as a stray for several months before being picked up. Unfortunately, she wasn’t microchipped and her owners were never found. The fur on her back and neck was very short and had been non-existent when she when to stay with her fosters about two months earlier. The vet estimated her at around six years old, but when we met her, we pretty much immediately decided she was much older due to her very white face and something else we just couldn’t quite put our finger on...

Abby (formerly named Annie and changed because her fosters already had an Annie), a two-year-old Spaniel-mix, was surrendered to Spaniel Welfare SA by a couple who were splitting up and “couldn’t decide who would keep her – so neither of them did”. She was a nervy little lady with a sweet nature but an obvious fear of men.

The moment we met the girls, we immediately fell for them; they were so gentle and loving with the kids. That very afternoon they accompanied us back home to Johannesburg. We’d put them in the back of the car, but within minutes, Abby had squeezed through the sides and into the back seat with the kids. Bella tried to follow and got stuck, so the kids pulled her gently through! Happiness all around.

Settling in

When we got home, Bella dashed into the garden and excitedly started to explore. Abby, on the other hand, was reluctant to get out of the car and had to be carried by Grace (our youngest, then six) to the garden.

The blankets that they came with from their foster homes were a great comfort during this big move (though they seemed to be interchangeable between the dogs!).

Very quickly, Abby and Bella settled into the house and our family; there was never any question of not keeping them after the initial trial period. Abby continued to be very scared of men visiting the house, particularly those in uniform, who were barked at furiously. And, if they carried a broom or wore a hat, well… she wasn’t happy at all; she’d cower and bark at the same time. Nearly better 18 months on, this is still an issue.

Both dogs have been wonderful with the kids and they were often read to as part of homework! We’ve loved having them around.

They never got used to the guinea pigs (whose cage we had to raise well out of jumping reach) but they did develop a funny relationship with the tortoise. They would often trot alongside her as she ambled around the garden, and when Abby was around Terry, the tortoise had to share her melon snacks.


Bella quickly demonstrated that she didn’t hear very well – the vet told us she was near deaf and also had a degenerative eye condition, meaning she can only see directly in front of her. We also discovered a heart valve issue and she’s on a medication for this and seems to be fine. We estimate she’s more like 10+ years, but who knows – that time on the street would have affected her in many ways. She still likes to forage for her food whenever possible! And we love her regardless.

Change is ahead

Fast forward eight months and we were notified that we’d have to return to the UK (where we came from nearly four years ago to work in SA) for work reasons. There was never any question about Abby and Bella not coming too and we immediately made enquiries into how to arrange this.

We received quotes from a few pet emigration companies and decided on Keringa-Petwings because, although the price difference wasn’t much, we’d heard good things about Keringa from our vets. However, it is a large cost – and something that people should consider when adopting animals; if there’s a chance they might move overseas, they need to factor this into their decision.

Red tape

Taking animals with you involves quite a lot of paperwork, logistics and vet checks, and although there’s no quarantine period required for the UK, we had to make sure that the dogs’ blood tests showed enough rabies antibodies. And they had to be checked out by the state vet who only works Monday - Friday. Thankfully, Keringa advised us all the way through this sometimes-challenging process.

South African Airways (SAA) is the only airline authorised to import/export animals to/from SA, so Bella and Abby would have to fly with them. However, our own travel had been booked way in advance by the company we worked for – and they don’t use SAA for business travel.

Dogs in transit

This meant that we’d have to leave the dogs in kennels a few days before we flew and while the container was loaded, as this would have been quite distressing for the dogs; as it was, Bella in particular was constantly trying to get into one of the boxes or cases being packed.

In total, the dogs spent four nights in kennels; Keringa took them to the airport (having arranged their paperwork and transport crates) and put them on the plane. A tense 24 hours lay ahead as we waited anxiously to hear how they were doing on the flight (in the crates and so on) but honestly, we were as concerned about their time in kennels as they’d not been to one before.

It helped that we were emailed pictures of the dogs in their travel crates (which contained a blanket each that we’d been sleeping with for weeks before we left, so it was scented by us!), because although they looked rather confused, we were assured they were ok.

Welcome to the UK

The flight from Johannesburg to the UK is 11 hours long and we waited in great anticipation for an update. We were called in the morning to let us know that the plane had landed and then had to wait a few more hours to be called again when the paperwork had been accepted by UK customs. We’d just have to wait an hour (for a UK entry vet to okay them) and then we could fetch them.

We were so excited to collect them at London Heathrow Airport’s “Animal Reception Centre” – we couldn’t wait. The kids and I went to meet them and they were overjoyed to see us. There was no sign of any trauma and they were full of waggy tails and happy faces. Just the same as if we’d only been out for the day!

Bella immediately did a few “Happy Rolls” on UK soil for the first time and it wasn’t long before they were settling in as if they’d always lived there. They loved their first walks in the London parks and enjoyed walking with their Siberian Husky cousin, Lumi (also a rescue dog who was brought from Turkey by my brother and sister-in-law who lived overseas for a while). Abby wasn’t impressed with her first contact with snow – it was like she tried to tiptoe over it to get as little of herself in contact with this cold stuff!

We arrived in the UK summertime and spent four months in temporary accommodation waiting for the tenants in our own home to move out. We finally moved into our own home in winter. The dogs are happy to be home and so are we!