What do I Need to Become a USDA-Certified Pet Transporter?

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Animal Transport · For Drivers · Pet Shipping · 28 February 2018

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“Ensuring proper animal care and comfort is not just good business—it is also required by law.”

This wording is used to introduce the U.S. government’s basic guidance document on the provisions for licensing and registering of businesses under the Animal Welfare Act 1966.

Do you want to build a successful business transporting animals across regions, states, or even the whole country? You’ll need to meet all the requirements laid down to be granted a license to transport animals under the Act.

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You don’t need any formal qualifications or specific experience to set up a business as a pet transporter. However, a professional pet transporter has to offer more than a taxi service for domestic animals.

To run a business moving pets by road you need to know many details about those passengers. In many ways, it’s like running an airline. The most successful go to great lengths to know passengers, learn tastes and how to make travel easy and stress-free. Then they set out to cater to customers’ needs.

That’s why there’s no single definitive guide that answers every question you need to ask as a pet transporter.

Your first port of call when enquiring about the detailed rules governing the transportation of pets interstate and the variations in the breeds which states permit to be transported should be the State Veterinarian’s office for the states in which an animal will start and end its journey.

Know Your Passengers

But let’s start with the details on your precious charges, the animals which you’re being paid to move.

To be a good pet transporter, understanding the small details is one attribute which your clients value most. It’s good to have an inquiring mind so you get the answers to several important questions so you better know your charges.

Animals react very differently to being transported. This is especially true over long distances. Knowing important information about the physical and psychological characteristics of different species and breeds can be a big help.

If transporting pets was easy, then there would be many more businesses doing it.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) takes an important lead in ensuring that high standards of welfare and good practices are upheld by anyone working with animals.

What is APHIS?

The licensing of businesses in this field is carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which was initially established to administer the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Ensuring safe conditions for animals during transportation is only a small part of APHIS’ responsibilities. It also also covers “protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities”.

APHIS categorizes businesses involved in the movement of animals in two ways:

  1. As a Carrier
  2. As an Intermediate Handler

Both are required to enlist their details with APHIS and the registration is the same.

What is an Animal Carrier?

An Animal Carrier is “any enterprise transporting regulated animals for hire as a common carrier. [including] airlines, railroads, motor carriers, shipping lines, and other enterprises.” So this is the category that covers most of the businesses which you’ll find on this website.

The Act defines an Intermediate Handler as “anyone taking custody of regulated animals in connection with transporting them on public carriers”. This definition covers boarding kennels that organize their own shipping from or to clients, freight forwarders, and freight handlers. The main difference here is that an Intermediate Handler operates through public carriers, such as airlines, couriers, and shipping & forwarding companies, while carriers are often in business in their own right, as private individuals or incorporated businesses.

Anyone taking custody of regulated animals in connection with transporting them on public carriers must be registered as an intermediate handler. This requirement covers boarding kennels that take responsibility for shipping animals or receiving them after or during shipment. It also covers freight forwarders and freight handlers.

Failure to become licensed or registered is a punishable violation of the Animal Welfare Act. On the basis of the information you supply, APHIS will determine whether your business should be licensed, registered, or both. Licensing involves a yearly fee; registration is free.

Good news! If you’re looking to start a business, you don’t need to pay to get registered as a pet transporter.

Are There Differences in Care Standards Between Licensed and Registered Operators?

No. This is true most of the time when transporting animals. The standards required by operators under the law are the same whether you’re a licensed or a registered business. But, there can be differences in specific circumstances.

Naturally, suitable crates for transporting dogs and cats can be bought in various sizes. But if you’re running a business sending a pet long distances,  buy several different sizes. One manufacturer, for example, offers pet carriers in six different sizes, which are categorized by the animal’s weight.

If you’re transporting animals regularly, you need to be totally comfortable being at close quarters with them for long periods. It sounds obvious, but there’s a world of difference between having pets at home and taking care of them traveling long distances in a confined space.

Of course, you will not have the animal in your charge in full sight at all times, so you may not be able to tell when they start to show signs of agitation. It’s always wise to let a dog travel with a number of familiar items in the crate with them, particularly dog toys.

Ensuring that a dog has sufficient water at all times can be tricky, and for the purposes of transportation, it’s required to fix a water bowl to the body of the pen in which it is being carried, to prevent accidental spillages. Some types come with Velcro tabs which allow the bowl to be secured around the bars of a pen, or you can buy bowls with metal fixing brackets that attach to the pen walls.

Consult with the Owner

You should also consult the owner of the dog you’re moving over its regular mealtime patterns, as it’s a good idea to plan your journey so that you can, where possible, take rest breaks that tie in with the animal’s usual feeding times.

While exercise is required for license holders (i.e. breeders), it’s not actually a requirement for registrants (i.e. transporters) under the Animal Welfare Act. Of course, giving the dog exercise is always a good idea, but it’s important to remember to follow AWA guidelines: Section 3.6(c)(1) states that the animal can only be moved from its carrier to a compliant enclosure. The section includes a mathematical formula for what constitutes a compliant enclosure — (length of the dog in inches + 6) x2 / 144. 

The AWA makes this step a bit difficult, as the ideal enclosure must be completely enclosed and private. That scratches rest stops off the list because they aren’t enclosed; a dog could slip his collar, which in a worse-case scenario could lead to the animal being injured or even killed. Even dog parks don’t quite meet these standards because they’re a public space. Another dog owner could leave the gate open, allowing the dog to escape the fenced-off area. The best examples of secure, non-public spaces are a hotel room or a fenced-in backyard. 

Dog Transportation – A Growing Business

As people become increasingly mobile, we have seen a corresponding rise in demand for services able to safely transport their pets.

This rising tide of movement was given further momentum by the need to re-home dogs suddenly made homeless in Mississippi and Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina in 2004. Many businesses operating today arose out of the work done at that time, which prompted the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to draw up broad guidelines of its own.

AVMA Guidlines

These state: “Properly secured, size-appropriate kennels that are appropriately ventilated and allow climatic conditions suitable for a dog’s breed and conditioning to be maintained are the preferred means of transport of dogs when in open cargo areas of motor vehicles.

“The preferred means of transport within the confines of a vehicle is either in a secured kennel of appropriate size or fitted with a properly designed dog safety harness.​”

However, it’s important to note that USDA registrants are required to transport animals in compliant enclosures/crates. An animal traveling in the seat of a vehicle without an enclosure (with or without a harness) is considered a noncompliance in the AWA.

So if you run a business focused on moving people’s much-loved pets, these guidelines should provide a useful starting point.

What is the Animal Transportation Association?

But there’s no substitute for getting to know other people who already operate in the field. For that, your starting point should be the Animal Transportation Association (ATA). This “non-profit organization dedicated to the safe and humane transportation of animals” can be an important and useful source of help. So why not get in touch and get to know some of its existing members, who may be happy to give you the benefit of their experience?

It has also produced this factsheet on crate-training for animals due to be transported which, while focusing heavily on procedures for air transport, also includes some valuable general pointers which will apply for many other journeys, including by road.

When animals need to travel long distances, we should take the same care over planning the journey as we would for ourselves. With a 91% ‘Excellent’ rating on Trustpilot, CitizenShipper shows the benefit of using a business whose drivers really care about their cargoes. If you love animals as much as we do, why not sign up as a CitizenShipper driver today?


Update: Spring 2020

This article is getting on in years! Since first publishing it, we’ve taken steps to streamline the process of registering with the USDA. Right now, drivers can simply fill in this application form and email it to animalcare@usda.gov with a single click. 

For more details on this, check out our step-by-step guide or view the following tutorial video:

 

Last updated at January 18, 2023

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LeeAnne Knadler
LeeAnne Knadler
4 years ago

Thankyou for this article. The information is very useful to me in my upcoming endeavors.

Jamie
Jamie
3 years ago

If you recognize this is essential, why is it that Citizen Shipper allows and even seems to promote shippers who are not USDA ?

Holley Stein
Holley Stein
3 years ago

Thanks for this info it made things clear on transportation of pets etc.

Carvin
Carvin
3 years ago

Is there a website I can go on to fillout a application?

Matt Matasci
Matt Matasci
Admin
Reply to  Carvin
4 months ago

Hi Carvin,

We’ve streamlined the process and you can fill out the form here:

https://form.jotform.com/Citizen_Shipper/USDA-Registration

Lynne Smith
Lynne Smith
3 years ago

I wish I could get many of the transporters I come across to just read this! I learned something valuable reading this and I have been transporting for 4 years.

Annette
Annette
2 years ago

Thank you!

Maria Love
Maria Love
2 years ago

great information thanks

Agnes Smith
Agnes Smith
2 years ago

How do I get the information about all this and what kind of car do you have to use thanks

Bernie Page
Bernie Page
2 years ago

I want to start a pet transporting business. Looking for more Information about getting started.

Thank you

Bernie Page

Karen
Karen
2 years ago

How long does it take once you apply for the USDA?
Thanks

BetonLynne
BetonLynne
Reply to  Karen
7 months ago

Up to 60 days cureently

Johnny D Sanes
Johnny D Sanes
2 years ago

When I go to fill the form out it said form not found

Jessica Beauregard
Jessica Beauregard
1 year ago

I filled the application form out but never received my copy or confirmation in my email? Just wanted to check and see what the problem was there?

Lazar
Lazar
Editor
Reply to  Jessica Beauregard
1 year ago

For anyone interested in learning more about how to apply for USDA T-Registration, please check out this video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMu8UlzpkfQ. All of the useful links like the submission form and step by step tutorial guide can be found in the video description.

Finally, be advised that USDA approval times vary, and most commonly drivers using our website have reported that it takes them between 2-3 to receive their certification upon applying.

debra woodley
debra woodley
10 months ago

Enclosure space requirement formula is misquoted! The AWA formula is (length of dog in inches + 6) x (length of dog in inches + 6)/ 144 = required floor space in square feet. In other words, (the dog’s length + 6) SQUARED– not doubled!! The “formula” quoted in the article above would cram a 44″ long dog into approximately a one foot by 7″ space, instead of a roomier 4′ by 4’4″ carrier.

Daniel Juckes
Daniel Juckes
7 months ago

It asks about inspection… What is that process, and what do I need to be prepared for?

Matt Matasci
Matt Matasci
Admin
Reply to  Daniel Juckes
4 months ago

Good question Daniel!

Per the USDA APHIS website:

“Each person applying for a license must demonstrate that his or her premises and animals, which includes animal facilities, vehicles, equipment, or other sites used or intended for use in the business, comply with the regulations and standards of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). AC personnel perform pre- licensing inspections of dealers and exhibitors prior to issuing a license. Pre-registration inspections are not required under the Act, but facilities may request one. Whenever possible, the program honors these requests in order to promote the highest level of compliance.

AC personnel conduct unannounced compliance inspections at the facilities of all licensees and registrants to ensure that they are operating in compliance with the AWA.. Inspectors review the premises, facilities, husbandry practices, program of veterinary care, records, and animal handling procedures. According to the AWA, research facilities that use animals covered under the Act are inspected at least once a year for compliance. APHIS also uses a risk-based system to determine minimum inspection frequencies for all licensees and registrants.”

Hopefully that helps you with your question!