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Pet Passports now to be extended
to America & Canada



MINISTERS are preparing to extend the PETS Travel Scheme to allow dogs and cats from the United States and Canada to enter without needing to enter quarantine for the statutory six month period.

They believe it is possible to extend the two-year-old “pet passport” scheme, which operates for animals travelling from most of Western Europe, Australia, Japan and Hawaii, to North America from next year. The move will delight thousands of American diplomatic and service families, as well as show business stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and
Michael Jackson, who like to travel with their pets.

President George W Bush, who is frequently seen leaving planes with his Scottish terrier, Barney, or his springer spaniel, Spot, is among the high-profile figures who might benefit from a relaxation in the quarantine law.

When Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton visited Britain during the 1960s they were forced to keep their four beloved dogs aboard a yacht moored on the Thames. If the dogs had ever set foot on British soil, they would have been impounded and taken into quarantine.

Two years ago, when the actress was due to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace for her investiture as a Dame, she was upset to learn that Sugar, her Maltese, would have to stay at home in spite of her best efforts to lobby Downing Street.

Elliot Morley, the Animal Health Minister, hopes to make a formal statement on the extension of the PETS scheme in June. Any new system, however, must be foolproof and is likely to be stricter than that approved under the present scheme. If the extended scheme was approved, it is hoped to be in place by the end of next year.

The new plans follow two new studies of the threat to Britain of rabies and other diseases if the draconian anti-rabies laws are removed for pets from the US and Canada. Animals travelling from North America would be subject to the most stringent checks and identity controls. A history of recent travel movements might also be required.

Regular checks

Scientific experts believe that it is possible to relax the quarantine rules for pets, provided they have been micro-chipped, vaccinated against rabies, and blood-tested to ensure that the vaccine is effective. Pets must also be subject to delousing and de-worming treatments and a full veterinary inspection. North American pets will also be obliged to register with a vet in Britain to ensure that regular checks are made after arrival.

There is particular concern to ensure that pets from North America do not carry diseases that can be passed to human beings as well as other animals.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed that the issue was being examined, though he stressed that no decisions had been taken yet.

He said ministers were considering two reports from universities which examine veterinary risk assessments relating to rabies and other diseases found in places such as North America.

Joe Brownlie, Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said yesterday: “There would have be a full veterinary check on every animal coming into the UK from North America and rules insisting that owners register their pets with a vet on arrival in the country.”

He added that rabies was rampant in the United States, especially on the East Coast, and that every effort had to be made to protect British wildlife from the disease.

The main threat to human beings was an animal with ringworm, he said, but this skin infection was easily spotted in a veterinary check. He was anxious, however, that pets from North America could spread heartworm, which is a parasite that lives in the blood and causes heart congestion, and brucella, a severe infection that causes high fever and can trigger arthritis, though these conditions, too, would be identified by a veterinary check.

These issues are now being discussed by Whitehall’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens.

The Government has been under pressure to reform the quarantine laws by the US Administration because many people are now refusing British postings because of the anti-rabies laws. Peter Kurz, agriculture counsellor at the US Embassy in London, said that diplomats were turning down the chance to work in Britain because
Mr Kurz said that the risks of relaxing the rules would be acceptable. “The people who want to bring in dogs are responsible pet owners. We are not talking about stray dogs. These animals are looked after and it can be quite an expensive proposition.”

Mr Kurz is a fan of the pet travel scheme for he was able to bring in his dog, Claire, a Bichon Frisé, from his last posting in Germany. “We were very glad because in the six months when she would have been in quarantine she became ill with cancer. She was able to spend the last part of her life with us,” he said.

Anxious

Last year, when William Farish was appointed US Ambassador to Britain, he had to send his four-year-old Maltese, Cotton, on holiday to France for six months to qualify for the pet passport scheme.

Lady Fretwell, founder of Passport for Pets, the campaign against quarantine laws, said that she was “anxious for an early decision”.

The move, if approved, is likely to sound the death knell for the quarantine industry in the UK. Already many businesses have been forced to close due to the marked reduction in business since the introduction of the PETS scheme. The Government has slavishly opposed the issue of compensation for those businesses affected by the PETS scheme, although compensation was never an issue when mink fur farms were forced to close due to Government legislation aimed at ending the UK fur trade on animal welfare grounds.