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Bullet the Bichon finally comes home


BACK IN July 2008 OUR DOGS covered the story of ‘Bullet’ the Bichon Frisé who, after competing at the World Dog Show in Sweden, was flatly refused entry back into the UK and detained in quarantine despite possessing a valid Pet Passport.

Now, roughly a year later, Bullet’s long-awaited return to this country has finally been granted and the brave Bichon was reunited with his dedicated owner, Pauline Johns, on Tuesday 28th July.

Bullet’s ordeal has been a long and drawn out one involving several mishaps along the way, sadly extending the length of time spent away from his home. The downward spiral of events began thirteen months ago after a simple mix-up with a missing microchip led to DEFRA officials slamming him into quarantine shortly after winning the CAC at both the World Show and the Swedish Toy Dog Association. The reasoning behind this decision was that the dog’s microchip had been replaced by Pauline’s vet after his anti-rabies blood test, and the details did not tally with DEFRA’s records, essentially invalidating his vaccinations. DEFRA also refused to accept Bullet’s tattoo registration number as valid proof of his identity as British tattoos are not recognised by the Pet Travel Scheme.

Seven months

Distraught Pauline was told that her top winning Bichon (Ch Manoir’s Shot in the Dark) would have to be taken into quarantine for seven months and was subsequently vaccinated for a second time against rabies. After six days of worry Pauline made the decision to send Bullet to the USA where he could be looked after by Ricky Day, the owner of Bullet’s sire, telling OUR DOGS that, ‘Isolation kennels are no place for a social toy dog to spend seven months.’

Four weeks after arriving in the US blood was drawn for a titre test which was confirmed to be in order. Following this Bullet was booked to fly home on 12th February 2009 by which time he would have completed his seven month sentence. However, this was not to be as another mix-up ensured that the little dog would have to remain outside the UK for a further six months - the vet, in error, sent his blood to a local laboratory and not the one and only lab in the USA that is approved to test blood for the Pet Passport Scheme. A fourth blood test was then carried out showing Bullet’s blood titre to be nine times higher than is necessary.

By this point Pauline’s nerves were taking a severe battering and she knew she had to spring into action and fight Bullet’s corner to try to bring an end to this run of bad luck. She lodged an appeal with DEFRA on the basis that as ALL his blood tests had been successful would they consider that he had already served his six months and be allowed home. Unfortunately, however, DEFRA denied this request, suggesting that Pauline appeal directly to DEFRA’s Secretary of State, Hilary Benn MP, in the hope that a ‘risk assessment’ be ordered, which she duly did with the help of her local Conservative MP Andrew Selous.

Horrified

Much to Pauline’s astonishment, Mr Selous - although he knew very little of the Pet Passport Scheme - was left aghast by Bullet’s situation and vowed to help Pauline in her quest to take the matter to Parliament.

Pauline told us: ‘Mr Selous was quite horrified by my story and was concerned that A) In one year alone 4,799 animals with EU passports were refused entry into the UK, mostly due to errors made by vets. B) That those animals that need to restart their Pet Passport requirements (as in Bullet’s case) could end up being put down if the owners do not have the funds to pay for quarantine, and C) That microchips can fail or exit the body and there is no back-up form of ID.

In the meantime another predicament arose which Pauline had to contend with. In May 2009 it was brought to her attention that dogs are not allowed to fly out of the USA through most of the summer months due to ground temperature being too high, meaning that she would have to find an alternative home in a cooler climate to enable Bullet to return to England in July should her final appeal fail.

Luckily, as a result of the constant support Pauline was receiving from people throughout the dog world it wasn’t long before she found a temporary home for Bullet with Jennifer Schmidt in Sweden. To add insult to injury, Bullet was able to enter any country in the world except for the UK and Ireland!

After nine long weeks following Pauline and Mr Selous’ appeal to Hilary Benn MP they were disappointed to be told that Bullet could not return home before the set date of 28th July. However, on a more positive note, on 24th June Mr Selous was successfully granted a paliamentary debate on Bullet and the Pet Passport Scheme in Westminster Hall.
Addressing the assembled ministers Mr Selous acknowledged that ‘there are quite a number of people who fall foul of the Pet Passport Scheme every year,’ but described Pauline Johns’ situation as ‘unusual’ because there was no real threat of rabies from Bullet re-entering the country as he had been successfully vaccinated.

‘I think it was generally recognised by officials at DEFRA that this dog posed absolutely no risk whatsoever to anyone’s health - human or animal - within the United Kingdom,’ Mr Selous explained during the debate. ‘The dog had had four different blood tests under two different microchips; it was a British dog, it had originated in the UK which is of course rabies-free, which is a significant point.’
The Minister responded: ‘T
he risk of rabies as well as the possibility of picking up other diseases means that no owner should take the responsibility of travelling with their pet lightly.
‘It is a serious business as the honourable gentleman [Mr Selous] describes and although we have serious controls in place to mitigate the risk, the strong burden of responsibility falls on pet owners.’

Additionally, in response to Mr Selous’ enquiry about Hilary Benn’s discretion from the rules with reference to two previous cases, the Minister said: ‘DEFRA’s Secretary of State has no power to authorise exceptions from the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme.’

Red tape

After thirteen months of fighting for Bullet’s return Pauline is understandably exhausted and has very strong feelings towards pet travel regulations. Her main fear is that this rigid conformity to the rules will cause more harm than good leading to unvaccinated dogs entering the country through illegal routes and thus placing the UK at greater risk than a more reasonable system of control.

Pauline told OUR DOGS: ‘The quarantine penalty consequent on something going wrong with a Pet Passport is disproportionate to the risk ... fear of the system is driving the passage of animals underground and no one is able to know exactly how many dogs come in illegally.

‘Microchips not uncommonly fail; there is no permitted alternative form of ID and there is no discretion in the legislation for the authorities to waive the rules.

‘At the very least a shortening of the quarantine period for dogs entering from approved countries to a more reasonable length of time would reduce the penalty suffered by dogs and owners as a result of innocent mistakes under Pet Passport rules, and also reduce the likelihood of dogs being illegally imported into the UK in an attempt to evade quarantine.

‘Never in a million years did I expect to go through a nightmare lasting thirteen months. However, my experience has certainly highlighted how easy it is for things to go wrong. Until the current system is changed I will never again take a dog out of the UK that has to return back to his or her home.

‘I am very grateful to the people that have cared for Bullet and to all those who constantly enquired after him. Bullet is, thankfully, a happy-go-lucky Bichon who seems unaffected by being moved around and after thirteen months away from home I am looking forward to him sitting by my side and putting this dreadful experience behind me.’

Andrew Selous’ parliamentary debate at Westminster Hall can be viewed at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=4287


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