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Hero SAR dogs return to quarantine

WITHIN HOURS of arriving in Pakistan, Search and Rescue dog Charcole was hailed a hero, having saved the life Mohammed Tariq, a 20-year-old tailor lost in the rubble of his home in Muzaffarabad.

But as soon as she and her SAR dog rescue team mates touched down in the UK last Saturday, fresh from searching for survivors from the Pakistan earthquake, it was to go into quarantine. For the next six months this highly trained seven year old black Labrador and her mates will be in kennels behind bars, thanks to DEFRA’s existing quarantine laws.

Before he left home in Northern Ireland, owner Neil Powell of B.I.R.D. (British International Rescue Dogs) had to make an agonising decision; if he took Charcole she would return to six months quarantine on her return, even though her rabies jabs were up-to-date; but Neil decided the chance to save life was more important.

Currently, at international disaster sites British dogs work alongside Swiss, Spanish and French dogs – none of whom are subjected to quarantine. For highly trained Charcole this is the second stint she will have had behind bars.

Veteran campaigners such as Lady Mary Fretwell of Passports for Pets cannot understand why these dogs receive a prison sentence, rather than a "pat on the back." DEFRA refuse to follow practice in other EU countries, whose veterinary authorities have made a full study of risks, and are happy to allow these hero dogs home without going into quarantine.

Author of the book ‘999 and other Working Dogs’, Verite Reily Collins, said:

"When I asked DEFRA what would happen if all the British rescue dogs eventually were in quarantine, and we had another tornado in Birmingham, flooding in Boscastle or even lost children and old people, how would we cope for search dogs? The spokesman said they ‘would bring in dogs from France’. I asked if they’d do so even though these dogs had been working alongside the British dogs in Pakistan? ‘They are French dogs’, was the reply."

If team members have contacts in Europe, their dogs can go and stay with them for the six months (currently one is in Spain) and then return to Britain without quarantine under the PETS Scheme.

"You couldn’t make it up if you tried," added Verite.

Doug Kempster of DEFRA’s Press Office told OUR DOGS earlier this week:

"The quarantine rules are designed to protect the UK from rabies. The rescue teams are aware before they go and know the dogs will have to go into quarantine on their return from countries like Pakistan where rabies is endemic.

"No vaccine is 100% effective. If you make one exception it is difficult to see where you then draw the line."