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(Updated 04/03/01)

Guide dog's exile leads to diplomat's call for change

 

THE UNITED States Ambassador to London has presented the British Government with a hard-hitting report that contradicts claims that US pets pose an unacceptable rabies risk to the UK.


The report, by Democrat-appointed ambassador Philip Lader who left his post this week, highlights the problem of a young, blind American woman who has moved to the UK to start married life, but has to do so without her guide dog.


Lisa Squirrel’s guide dog is four year-old black Labrador Largo. Despite receiving regular rabies jabs all his life and being completely healthy, Largo has been forced into six months’ ‘exile’ in France so that he will qualify for a pet passport as a French dog before he is allowed to join his mistress in the UK.


The PETS travel scheme allows animals to enter the UK from approved, rabies-free European countries including France, but animals entering from the United States would have to undergo six months’ quarantine.


Mrs Squirrel, 23, has been reduced to finding her way round the unfamiliar streets of Richmond, Surrey with the use of a cane or with the help of friends.


Mr Lader has been a keen observer of the new pet passport system, although he feels that the United States has been unfairly discriminated against.


Significant
The report he commissioned from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Atlanta says: “We do not agree with the conclusions reached by the UK. Properly vaccinated dogs and cats from the USA should not impart any more significant risk than is currently present for EU member countries.


An embassy official said: “The case of Mrs Squirrel is an example of the kind of things we are working hard to redress.


“The bottom line is, there is rabies in our wild animal population, but there is a veterinary programme that ensures family pets meet all the requirements of the UK programme.


“More and more people are working on both sides of the Atlantic. They would like to bring their pets with them but feel that six months’ quarantine is very hard on the pets and hard on their owners.”


The Squirrels’ problems began when Douglas Squirrel, 29, a computer programmer, was transferred to London in September last year. The couple, who had fallen in love with England after their honeymoon a few weeks earlier, were initially delighted. However, they were soon dismayed when they realised that they would probably have to give Largo away.


They wrote to MAFF and direct to Prime Minister Tony Blair, pleading for an exception to be made for Largo, but to no avail.


“We were absolutely devastated,” said Mrs Squirrel. “We thought we would lose Largo. There was no way we were going to put him through quarantine, because we felt he would be treated like a number, a mere object.”


The couple received help and encouragement from the campaign group Passports for Pets. Largo was given the necessary rabies booster and basic certification to enter France. Then, via Passports for Pets, he was found the perfect ‘foster mother’, Margaret Slater, an ex-puppy walker for the guide dog school, who will care for Largo until his period of ‘exile’ is up and he can join the Squirrels in the UK.


Difficult


Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Squirrel are running up a £3,000 travel bill as they cross the channel to visit Largo as often as possible.


“It’s very difficult for all of us,” says Mrs Squirrel. “Largo doesn’t understand, it, he wants to come with me, and I always cry when I go.”


A MAFF spokesman said that the American pet passport status was “under constant review.”


He said: “We have sympathy with Mrs Squirrel but we have to take very seriously the concerns for human and animal health.”