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    Long Distance Resident Transportation Safety And Legal Considerations

    A wide open road out in the desert with mountains in the distance.
    Safe resident transportation is a long road… even before you start driving!

    Updated August 13, 2019

    The Travails Of Travel

    Whether you’re adopting a resident out of your region or bringing in new residents to their forever home, you must treat all aspects of resident transportation incredibly seriously. Failing to plan for a resident’s comfort, health needs, and the laws governing animal transportation could have catastrophic consequences, both legally and for the safety of your residents and organization.

    Consider The Individual(s)

    When planning on transporting animals to or from an animal sanctuary, you must first take into consideration who you are planning on moving and what their specific needs are. Think about their personality, potential health challenges, and any risks that transportation would pose to them. For many farmed animal species, transportation is a potentially dangerous activity, as it can cause stress, overheating, and permanent, severe injury if larger or more frail residents were to fall during transportation. Due to the risks that transportation presents, ask yourself whether this individual should be transported at all if there’s the opportunity to avoid doing so.

    Some residents may require additional considerations, especially depending upon their breed or previous living conditions. For instance, hens who have been living in commercial egg-laying facilities have been known to dangerously pile up upon each other during transportation (sometimes with tragically fatal results); for this reason, if you are transporting a number of hens from a similar background, you will likely need to transport the birds using crates or carriers with only a small group of birds in each in order to prevent this possibility.

    Many residents of animal sanctuaries enjoy the company of certain family members or friends. If possible, it’s recommended to have a resident travel with one or more companions in order to make traveling more enjoyable for them! The extra travel preparation for an additional resident is well worth a stress-free experience for everyone involved.  When transporting a mother cow or mother pig and their young babies, it is safest to house the mother in one section of the trailer, and her baby (or babies) in the neighboring stall.  Transporting them in this way will prevent the mother from accidentally injuring her baby in the event that she stumbles or loses her footing, but will allow the family members to hear, smell, and ideally see each other as well, which will put everyone more at ease.

    In addition, you also will need to provide appropriate food and water for the duration of the journey to all residents, as well as any necessary medication or supplements.

    Don’t Break The Law

    Before you even consider transporting animals from one region to another, make sure that you are certain of all regional laws that you need to comply with. It’s not even unheard of for two adjacent counties to have strict transportation protocols between them. The following information pertains primarily to interstate travel in the United States; other countries have similar laws that you must research and follow!

    You should first contact the destination government of where the residents will travel to and ask exactly what is required of you to be in compliance for their transit. In the United States, transporting residents between two states has vastly different requirements depending on the source, destination, and species of the animals. Due to the ever-changing nature of illness and disease, regional regulations for moving animals can change remarkably quickly; rather than relying upon a regional website which may not be frequently updated, it’s best to get directly in touch with the government in order to get the most up-to-date information of what’s necessary. Here’s a list of contact information for each state animal health department in the United States.

    Get Their Name!

    Because interstate transport requirements change often, we highly recommend you call for information rather than rely on a website. Be sure to record the name of the person you spoke with. In the unfortunate event that you were given wrong or outdated information, it can be helpful to be able to say who you got it from. If the person giving you information sounds unsure about something, don’t be shy about calling back later to speak with someone else.

    Check your route for any quarantined areas for the species you are transporting.  You will want to avoid these areas, and possibly even surrounding areas, just to be extra safe.  If you are near, or will be traveling near a quarantined area that affects the species you are transporting, you should speak to the state vet overseeing the quarantine to ensure you are not putting the animals in your care at risk and are not breaking any laws.  If you are making stops to unload the animals, you will need to check with each area they will be unloaded in to see if there is any further testing or documentation needed. This may be an additional headache for much further journeys, but doing your research beforehand could save you from serious repercussions!

    Don’t Put Your Residents At Risk

    Although the legal requirements for transportation may seem daunting, unnecessary, or even cruel, you must follow the law as diligently as possible. Failing to do so could mean the government confiscating and potentially euthanizing a resident when trying to cross state lines. Even in less dire circumstances, your organization could face steep fines or damaging legal headaches. This has happened to numerous animal sanctuaries, and could have been avoided each time. Most governmental agencies do not create a distinction between an animal sanctuary and an agricultural operation, and will not provide special treatment for your residents. If a sanctuary is responsible for spreading a serious disease into a new region because they ignored regulations, it could mean an existential threat to all of their residents as well as their organization as a whole.

    Health Documentation

    Practically every state in the United States requires each animal travels with a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) from a federally-accredited veterinarian. If your veterinarian isn’t accredited, you can find one with the help of your state coordinator. You must have this documentation with you during all travel periods.

    Each region, depending on species, may additionally require testing of certain illnesses or diseases to prevent them from spreading into their territory. You will likely have to provide documentation that each resident is clear of these illnesses before transportation is legally allowed.

    These health examinations and tests typically must be conducted within a very short window of time from your travel period (and are effectively void after this window). For this reason, it’s important to ensure that you schedule your veterinarian visit while keeping your travel plans in mind!

    Test, But Don’t Overdo it!

    You must test for all diseases as required by the location you’re transporting a resident to. However, consider not testing this resident for additional diseases during the CVI if you have the option. There are many non-threatening diseases that don’t require testing for transportation, but would prevent a resident from entering a new region if they were confirmed to be afflicted with a reportable illness.


    For many species (especially ruminants), incoming regions require individual identification such as approved ear tags (or microchipping if you’re fortunate). For these reasons, it’s good to leave ear tags on a new resident until you are certain that they will not be leaving your sanctuary. If the law says they require a tag, you must comply. Other species have less stringent identification requirements depending on the region of travel.


    Each region has their own permits and fees for transporting animals to or from their area. These permits are typically time sensitive like the health documentation, so again, it’s important to do your research and follow every regulation to the letter.

    Once you’ve gotten all legal considerations researched and your veterinarian visits scheduled, you can plan the nuts and bolts of your trip!

    Create Appropriate Transportation

    Depending on who’s being transported, there are many different transportation options that a sanctuary could consider, ranging from personal vehicles for smaller residents such as birds to large trailers for bigger residents like cows or pigs. The transportation needs to be able to comfortably provide accommodation for all of the animals you’re planning on moving, without any risk of the residents falling or being thrown off a seat during travel.  If you are opting for a personal vehicle or van with windows in the back, you need to be sure that the animals being transported will not break the windows, either accidentally or resulting from being panicked, and you must ensure that the animals cannot exit the vehicle through an open window.

    Depending on the time of year you’re traveling, you’ll need to provide appropriate climate control and ventilation for the residents, taking their individual needs into account. It is unacceptable to not provide climate control when it is uncomfortably warm or cold in the transportation. When traveling across certain regions, you may need to schedule your transportation during certain parts of the day (such as driving through the night in the desert to avoid the daytime heat) or during different seasons if your travel time is flexible.

    You will likely need to provide abundant fresh bedding such as straw or wood shavings, especially on longer journeys. The material that the residents are standing or laying on top of must be safe for them, provide adequate nonslip traction, and not be easily chewed up by curious or nervous travelers!

    Depending on the length of the transport, you will likely need to provide water to the animals.  While it may seem like leaving bowls or tubs of water down for the duration of the trip is the best way to make sure they have access to water, often doing so creates a huge mess from water spilling.  This can create an unsafe environment by causing traction issues for larger animals (including large birds such as turkeys and large breed chickens).  It could also create a scenario where the animals end up with empty water containers and soaked bedding for the remainder of the trip.  Another thing to consider is that even if you were to find a spill-proof way to provide water for the duration of the trip, quite often animals in moving vehicles will not drink, meaning you could arrive with dehydrated travelers despite the fact that they had access to water.  A good solution is to plan to stop at predetermined intervals to offer the animals water and give them a reasonable amount of time to drink and relax in a stationary vehicle.

    Be Careful Opening And Closing Transport Vehicle Doors

    If transporting animals who are loose (as opposed to contained in a crate or carrier), you must be extremely cautious when opening and closing vehicle doors. Transport can be stressful, and a stressed animal may be more likely to try to jump out when doors are opened. Similarly, if opening a crate or carrier, it is best to do so in a closed vehicle in case anyone decides to make a run for it. The last thing you want to deal with during transport is a loose animal in unfamiliar territory.

    If you decide to use safe restraints for residents during transit, ensure that they are checked and rechecked regularly throughout the trip to prevent any possibility of a resident injuring themself or the restraint causing unintentional harm during travel.  It is almost never safe to restrain animals being transported in a trailer or other set-up where you cannot easily watch and quickly remove the restraints if needed, as they can become tangled and seriously injure themselves.

    Consider Cameras

    If you are transporting animals using a trailer or a van that has a visual barrier between you and the animals you are transporting, you may want to consider installing a camera (or multiple cameras!) to allow your co-pilot to observe the animals (the driver should keep their eyes on the road!). This set up can be as simple as installing a GoPro and watching the live stream on a phone, or as sophisticated as having cameras professionally installed and hooked up to a split screen monitor in the front of the vehicle.

    Make A Plan For Everything

    When creating travel plans for residents, you must have a contingency plan for every worst-case scenario you can think of. Residents are very sensitive and may not have as much tolerance for disruption than you might have! Consider thinking about solutions for scenarios such as:

    • What if your vehicle breaks down at any point along the journey?
    • What if your climate control for the residents malfunctions or breaks down?
    • What if the weather becomes too dangerous for safe transportation?
    • What if the route you were planning on taking is no longer viable and the journey becomes much longer?
    • What if you were to misplace your residents’ documentation?
    • What if the incoming region does not accept your residents’ documentation?
    • What if you had to turn back to where you came from during the trip?
    • What if a resident gets seriously ill or injured during the trip?
    • What if residents get violent with one another during the trip?
    • What if your driver is unable to complete the journey?

    Pace Yourself

    It’s very important to map out the planned route and find areas and times for appropriate breaks for the sake of both the traveling humans and residents. This is especially important on longer trips that require time for humans to get off the road and rest. Some residents may require more frequent breaks than others, and it can be quite difficult to find areas that farmed animals are allowed to disembark from transportation in order to get a respite from travel. One potential solution would be to see if any other animal sanctuaries along the way would be willing to let you take a break on their property. However, you must practice excellent biosecurity in cases like these to prevent either your residents or the host sanctuary’s residents from coming into contact with one another; either group could potentially be a silent carrier to a disease that the other group may be susceptible to.

    Once you’re on the road, always prioritize your residents’ comfort and safety. That means not driving distracted or drowsily, having a second human onboard to take turns if the travel must be accomplished quickly, and frequently checking in with residents to ensure that there are no problems with anybody. If a resident seems to be experiencing difficulties, pull over and evaluate them when safe to do so. It’s good to have an animal care expert or veterinarian available to talk during transit periods to ensure that no travel challenges become health emergencies. Hopefully all of your planning up until this point has made for a pleasant, successful journey!

    Each of these steps may seem daunting or excessive the first few times you plan on transporting a resident, but doing the appropriate planning, research, and careful coordination for every trip can be invaluable when something goes wrong. It could even save a life!

    Putting It All Into Practice

    If you’re planning on conducting a long distance animal transport soon, we’ve developed a free printable checklist to help easily ensure that you’re ready for a safe, comfortable journey with your residents! Download it here!

    And as you plan, conduct, and complete your transportation event, we’ve developed a free printable form to help you keep track of all regulatory, veterinary, and welfare concerns for reference during the event and to keep after the transport to help improve your residents’ transportation experience in the future! Download the form here.

    What Does 'Unacceptable' Mean?

    At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.


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