A MIDLANDS Search and Rescue (SAR) dog rescue team says it will not attend more overseas disaster areas until quarantine rules are relaxed.
The Government has decreed that all SAR dogs which attended the devastating Asian earthquake sites must be isolated for six months on return to the UK and handlers are unwilling continually to put them through it.
The Leicestershire-based group, which works with the fire service, said more dogs could have been taken to the scene of the South Asia earthquake if rules were relaxed.
DEFRA said the region was high-risk for rabies so the dogs had to be quarantined.
Rescue worker Chris Pritchard, went to help with the South Asia earthquake, but did not take his dogs Gemma and Elliot, which are experts at finding people trapped in collapsed buildings.
He said: "I took a conscious effort this time not to take Elliot or Gemma due to the fact that Gemma has done two tours in quarantine - that's 12 months out of her life and Elliot has done one stretch.
"I'm really torn - I've attended many earthquakes and I know how good the dogs are. However, I know the dogs will be locked away for six months, so I have to balance that with losing the dogs for six months, as well as in case there is work in the UK.
"It really does upset you, because these dogs are some of the most experienced in the country at carrying out this type of work and I know if we can get the opportunity we will find people alive and trapped in buildings."
The World Health Organisation has recommended that the UK relaxes the rules, providing rescue dogs are regularly tested and vaccinated against rabies – which they already are.
Doug Kempster of DEFRA’s Press Office told OUR DOGS previously: "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."