In May 2018, customs officials at Cochin International Airport seized a pet cat who had landed up with a Malayalee couple all the way from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. After 24 tension-fraught hours without its parents, the cat was deported to Jeddah via the same airlines which had brought it to Cochin. CIAL's officials had then stated that Cochin was not a designated flying route for pets.
One year later, pet-owning gulf Malayalees returning to Kerala have protested the inability to fly-in animals directly to the state's four international airports. The lack of an animal quarantine centre in any of the four airports at Kochi, Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Kannur is what has led to quite a bit of inconvenience for NRIs who wish to bring their pets along.
Sushil Varghese Mambara, a pet-owner based in Oman demanded that the state authorities take swift action to address the issue.
"It is high time the authorities concerned should act on swiftly to relieve the pet owners and their pets from unnecessary anguish as many of us Keralites are to be prepared leaving our present jobs due to many adverse factors. At the same time our pets became part of our daily life and do not want to abandon them to suffer," he wrote.
Omana John, a gulf Malayalee with two dogs and two cats, expressed the inconvenience caused while traveling to Kerala.
"I am not allowed to take my pets to Kerala through any of Kerala airports. We need a solution for this problem. I hope kerala government will look into this issue and will come forward to help us," she added.
In addition to protests by pet-owners, the issue has even led to higher rated of abandonment of pets by NRIs moving back home.
"The gulf economy is down and a lot of people are returning to Kerala for good. Many of them own dogs or cats and they want to bring them along. But as Kerala does not have any designated air routes for pets, we are seeing a lot of cases where these animals are being abandoned and this is rather sad," Jaison Mathai, founder of Tiger by the tail, a homeless animal welfare centre based in Oman tells TNM.
Import of pets are only allowed in airports which have a certified animal quarantine facility. Pet owners have to produce a health certificate from the country of origin and upon arrival, the animal will also be inspected by an animal quarantine officer and then released. Currently, none of the airports in Kerala have an animal quarantine facility.
"Most pet owners fly into Chennai, Hyderabad or Bengaluru and enter Kerala via rail, road or air. But this is so inconvenient and results in unnecessary expenses. Besides, if these 3 South Indian cities can have an animal quarantine centre, why can't one airport in Kerala get the same?," Jaison asks.
Pets accompanied by their owners can be flown into India as checked- baggage in select airports. In Mumbai, Chhatrapathi Shivaji International Airport and Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, pets can even be flown in unaccompanied as air-cargo.
To import over 2 dogs or cats into the country, a licence by the Director General of Foreign Trade is required.
Speaking to TNM, a representative from Cochin International Airport said, "We have raised this concern a few times and are planning to take it up again. To set up an animal quarantine facility in any airport, the centre must give its approval and for this the state needs to make a request to the central government. We have a plant quarantine centre where officers insect ornamental plants etc and decide which ones can be allowed into the state. For animals, Chennai and Bengaluru are the closest designated air routes for pets."
In February 2019, Jaison had even petitioned the Chief Minister's office highlighting the plight of pet owning gulf Malayalees who are retuning to Kerala. Despite promising to look into the matter, no steps has yet been taken on the issue, Jaison adds.
People for Animals Kerala too has been roped in to support the demand for an animal quarantine facility in Kerala's airports.
"We will be taking the issue up with the government. On behalf of People for Animals, we are planning to send a covering letter to the state requesting for the setting up of an animal quarantine facility in a few of the airports. We would like at least Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports to have this facility. We are expecting a positive response. PFA is concerned about plight of these poor animals and do not want them to be abandoned in gulf countries," Maria Jacob, trustee of People of Animals, Thiruvananthapuram, told TNM.