HUNTERS IN south-western France were outraged and disappointed last weekend at having to start the hunting season without their dogs because of a rabies scare.
They were ordered by Government decree to keep their dogs at home until October 8 after a dog illegally imported from Morocco in August died from rabies. After then, only vaccinated dogs will be allowed to hunt.
The decree affects 99,000 hunters in the Gironde, Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne departments (regions). Anyone who breaks the decree it faces a fine of £1,000 and the possible destruction of their dogs.
Hunting federations have asked for the army and veterinary students to help the area's 500 vets vaccinate some 50,000 hunting dogs.
"It's like confiscating a child's Christmas tree on Christmas Eve," said an emotional Gerard Gauville, a member of the hunters' federation of the Dordogne, who insisted that a third of the region's hunting dogs were already vaccinated.
The authorities are still trying to locate five people and five dogs that are at risk of contracting rabies. Traditionally, the French have regarded the fear of rabies as a peculiarly British obsession, although they are now rapidly revising that opinion.
As reported previously, the European Commission issued an EU-wide rabies alert after a dog was found carrying the deadly disease in southwest France, where hundreds of thousands of tourists spent the summer holidays
There were emotional scenes at a local dog pound at Merignac, near Bordeaux, as owners attempted to retrieve their dogs who had strayed into roads or fields then were seized by the authorities as strays. The dogs will be put down if their owners cannot prove they have been vaccinated.
"I've come to see my dog one last time before they put him to death," sobbed one woman named Sandrine, whose Setter escaped on Thursday as she was preparing to go out in her car. Officials were adamant: not having been vaccinated against rabies, the 14-year-old dog would be given a lethal injection.
Federations in two of the regions are to contest the decree in court this week. They have already filed for charges against the owner of the dead rabid dog, from Bordeaux. He faces a 15,000 Euro (£10,000) fine and a two-year jail sentence.
The rabid puppy was reportedly illegally imported from Morocco and brought into France on July 11 by the new owner. A European Commission spokeswoman said there was no question of the dog having entered the EU under currently changing EU rules for pets travelling between EU countries.
Rabies, which attacks the nervous system and can paralyse the entire body, is transmitted to people by dogs, cats, livestock and certain wild animals and birds. Since 1977, 19 cases of human rabies have been reported in France. All of those infected contracted the disease abroad. The Commission spokeswoman said there were on average one to three rabies cases in the EU per year.