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UF International Students Make Difficult Decisions About Traveling Home With Pets During Pandemic

Yihang Liu and his cat, Pancake, traveled through airports and across oceans in December. (Photo courtesy of Liu)
Yihang Liu and his cat, Pancake, traveled through airports and across oceans in December. (Photo courtesy of Liu)

CHONGQING, CHINA – As with so much else, the pandemic has made international students’ life with their pets more difficult than before.

Yihang Liu, a Chinese international student in his junior year at the University of Florida, adopted his second cat from a local pet rescue in July 2020, when thousands of people in Alachua County continued to quarantine at home as COVID-19 cases spiked across Florida. His two cats got along with each other well.

Liu gave a name, “Guozi," to the second cat, while the elder one is Pancake ("Jianbing” in Chinese). The combination of their names means a famous food in his hometown, Tianjin.

The quarantine life got more stressful, though, when he planned to fly back to China with Pancake in December. The preparation for taking a pet to travel during the pandemic was “huge work,” he said.

“Different forms to fill out, two shots of vaccination and many other proofs,” Liu said. “The preparation was complicated.”

The preparation typically encompassed two months. Checking the policies of each airline, getting the pets two shots of rabies vaccine and serological tests are general requirements.

“Every step of preparation was costly,” Liu said. “The total spending for this trip is almost a thousand dollars.”

Liu chose Delta Air Lines and applied for an Emotional Support Animal proof. He explained that without the document of ESA, each flight has a strict regulation that only four pets are allowed to be on the plane with the pet's tickets. Otherwise, they would be rejected or can only be in cargo where the temperature is low and pets cannot go out for more than 10 hours.

According to Liu, there were 17 pets on his flight to China.

“Some of the pets really felt nervous,” Liu said. “Because I could hear ‘woof’ and ‘meow’ all the time.”

Luckily, Pancake was calm with her “trip.” She sometimes slept on the seat, sometimes sat and looked at other passengers with trademark feline curiosity.

However, Honey, a Welsh Corgi who belongs to Xuantong Gao, of UF, was not lucky as Pancake. Honey was at home a rambunctious and mischievous girl but was quiet and listless on the plane. Even worse, she became sick on the second week during the 14-day quarantine in Shanghai.

“She was experiencing a hard time adapting to a new environment,” Gao said. “She often suffered from indigestion even before this trip.”

Gao is returning to UF in July, but she will not take Honey with her. She doesn't want Honey to suffer from the long trip again. Leaving her with Gao's parents seems a better choice.

While Liu and Gao successfully took their pets with them, many students could not do so due to the shortage of pet tickets and the cancellation of ESA by most airlines beginning in March 1.

The difficulty of taking pets traveling was not the only problem during the pandemic. Some students couldn't even adopt a favored pet from some rescues.

Dhyana O'Driscoll, the owner of Angel Whispurzz Cat Rescue, rejected an adoption from a Chinese international student during the pandemic.

"She showed me that the pets could be on the plane," O'Driscoll said, “but I declined.”

O'Driscoll's main concerns were the amount of travel time the cat will be inside a carrier, and the pets may lose protection due to different policies in another country. She explained that she also declined some requests from California.

"We adapt to another city as long as it is not too far away, like the six hours by car," O'Driscoll said, “but not more.”

This summer, from July to August, many Chinese international students will fly back to the university.

Based on how well she did on her first flight across the globe, Liu said he will take Pancake back with him.

"My cat should be proud of herself,” he said, “because there are not many cats in the world that can travel more than a thousand miles."

Hanzhi is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing