Calls for help to free hero dog
Darcy is being punished for doing her job
Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is battling ‘antiquated quarantine rules’ in a bid to free Darcy, their much-loved rescue dog.
Darcy is being held in solitary confinement at quarantine kennels in Stanway. Her home during the day is a 2ft x 4ft pen, with an even smaller billet overnight. She is alone from 4pm in the afternoon until 8am each morning. A far cry from her regular routine.
Darcy flew to Sumatra with her handler John Ball, a technician at ECFRS' Urban Search and Rescue base at Lexden as part of a 65-strong UK search and rescue team sent out to assist in the aftermath of the recent, highly-publicised earthquake. The team included seven Essex officers.
The Essex team flew into Pedang and worked in an area covered by a huge mudslide that buried several villages and claimed hundreds of lives. Darcy and the team worked alongside other search and rescue dogs in humid, monsoon conditions.
However, while dogs from Switzerland flew home and immediately went back into action, on Darcy's arrival into the UK she was shipped into quarantine, where she will have to spend the next six months in a tiny pen and without her handler who has been with her since she was a puppy.
John, who lives and works with Darcy, said: “Darcy has a Pet Passport but Indonesia is obviously outside Europe and therefore doesn't participate in the scheme, so she has to go into quarantine.
"The quarantine laws are out of date - Darcy has been inoculated against rabies and there are tests that can be taken to ensure she is not infected before she is released. Despite this, and her special place as a valuable rescue dog, she has to stay put.
“We are lobbying the Government to have the rules changed, but it could be too late for Darcy this time unless we can change the minds of policy makers quickly. When we got the call to go out to Sumatra with Darcy I had really mixed feelings. I knew that this is what she trains for and she could make a real difference and potentially save lives. But at the same time, I knew that she would have to pay a really heavy price for her involvement on her return.
As a search and rescue dog, Darcy needs to be fit and being in a 2m x 4m pen for six months will seriously impact her fitness levels. It will also mean that her training is hindered - although she is such a natural at her job that we are hoping that won't suffer too much. But this will certainly be like a prison sentence for her."
Darcy lives with John and his wife Helen, a Control Operator at ECFRS' emergency call centre in Hutton, near Brentwood. "We don't have children and to us Darcy is family," said John. "She is a big part of our lives and now we can only visit her for two hours a day, Monday to Saturday. It will be difficult for all of us," John added.
Team leader Terry Webb, USAR station commander, is supporting John in his battle with DEFRA policy makers. He told a press conference on Friday that there should be exemption for fire search and rescue dogs. He said: “There was a Swiss team there and they had 18 dogs with them. All of them were available to be deployed at home immediately they got back. The laws in the UK are extremely antiquated and when we compare what John and darcy are going through with the experiences of the Swiss team, it really brings that home.”
If you would like to support efforts to get Darcy released early, then write to your MP and send your messages of support to the Essex Fire Service. You can also support them on Facebook.