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Rabies fear of kennel owners

THE RELAXATION of quarantine for animals entering the UK from the USA and Canada has prompted concern from Britain’s quarantine kennel owners – many of whom face the collapse of their already precarious businesses. Mike Wykeham, Chairman of the Quarantine Association voiced these concerns to OUR DOGS earlier this week.

"My biggest concern, I have to say, is raccoon rabies," says Mr Wykeham. "From the information I’ve found, raccoon rabies is on the increase down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. In fact, every US state has rabies, except for Hawaii – which has quarantine.

Interestingly, you cannot take a dog from Colorado to Hawaii without it going through quarantine, but you can take a dog from the UK to Hawaii without the need for it to go into quarantine, because the UK is rabies free.

"As for Canada, raccoon rabies is also causing concern in Quebec and, let’s remember, raccoons can quite easily cross the US and Canadian borders."

Mr Wykeham was not at all surprised that, after a ‘risk assessment’ of the relaxation of quarantine from the US, that DEFRA acted so quickly in setting the date for the US’s inclusion in the PETS scheme.

"The announcement was long heralded, and, given the body language coming out of DEFRA, it came as no surprise whatsoever. What concerns us and should concern the public is that Canada, in its risk assessment, dates the rabies risk in terms of ‘expect a case of rabies in a country every few years’. The UK’s rabies risk as envisaged under the PETS scheme as it is until 10th December is for us to expect a case of rabies every 28 years. However, after the US and Canada come on board from 11th December that risk is increased to expect a case of rabies every 24 years – a 15% increase in risk."

Mr Wykeham is also gravely concerned about what would happen if there ever was an outbreak of rabies in the UK, given that many quarantine kennels, where animals would be expected to be held, will have closed down. "There are contingency plans, but DEFRA is notorious for this and remains confidential," said Mr Wykeham.

The future of the British quarantine industry looks bleak after the PETS Scheme is extended.

Mr Wykeham added: "We expect that the impact of this announcement will lead to between 20 and 25 quarantine facilities closing down, a 35% reduction in the market. Quarantine kennels do play a part in control of contingency plans for rabies – especially urban rabies.

As the likelihood of rabies is increasing, quarantine kennels that would be expected to play a part are being forced out of business. Quite bluntly, that facility would no longer be available."

"There is no talk of compensation for loss of business on the table. I have been talking to DEFRA for some weeks now and Elliot Morley, the DEFRA Minister EM spoke to me on the day of announcement," says Mr Wykeham. "He tried to convince us there would be some extra business with animals coming in from the States, mainly because the mechanics of the scheme are not in place. The Government hasn’t licensed any airlines as PETS carriers for animals, so they would need to be held in quarantine for one or two days. This means they’d come in with all their papers to Heathrow or Gatwick, but also on an import license.

This would mean they would need to be taken to quarantine kennels. A Veterinary Superintendent would then scrutinise all their papers and apply to DEFRA for their immediate release.

"This is all well and good, but it’s hardly increased business holding animals for one of two days. More like Labour Government spin!"

Mr Wykeham added that there was great demoralisation in the quarantine business and that a general feeling of inevitability pervaded the industry, as they’d seen the US and Canadian relaxation inclusion in the pets scheme for some time.

To date, there are 48 quarantine kennels currently in business, down from 81 which existed up to the start of the PETS scheme in February 2000. Although a handful of kennels now operate on strict domestic boarding terms, most of these have since ceased trading altogether.