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Risky Business – Rabies and Improperly Imported Dogs

IT SEEMS ironic that just when AMERICA’S national association of state vets wants all imported dogs to go into quarantine for 30 days, over here we’ve been relaxing regulations surrounding importation of dogs.

According to the association the data shows that of more than 287,000 dogs imported to the US at least 25 per cent were too young to be vaccinated for rabies and/or lacked proper documentation.

Rabies Virus

Rabies is a word that strikes fear in to the hearts of everyone living in the UK.

Fear of Rabies was the reason why the UK had such stringent rules in place regarding dogs coming in to the country. Until the end of the last century a dog arriving in the UK was forced to spend six months in quarantine before it could properly enter the country.

The arrival of the pet passport in 2000 changed all of that and since then it has been relatively easy to bring your dog into and out of the UK, more recently there have been further relaxations in the regulations. But a few weeks ago I met a man with an animal transport business who predicted that Rabies would be in the UK before the end of the year.

Pet Passport

Paul Anderson of Pets2go2 travels to the Continent three times a week carrying show and pet dogs, and witnesses what he says is a flagrant disregard of the law by those bringing in puppies and adult dogs by car, van and lorry illegally from Eastern Europe where rabies and other highly infectious, dangerous diseases are rife.  He estimates that 100 puppies a day – and about 400 a day over the Christmas period – are being brought in, mostly without having fulfilled the necessary pet travel requirements.

Paul makes his living taking dogs in and out of the UK and because it’s his business he does everything by the book but that’s not the norm.  What he sees going on terrifies him and he told us quite bluntly that he fully expected Rabies to be in the UK before the end of this year.  He predicts the case of rabies will involve a rescue dog, one of the many now being brought to the UK to go to animal charities and shelters.

Well it seems someone has sat up and taken notice because this week we were able to tell our readers that changes are being made to the pet travel scheme with the specific intention of deterring those who illegally traffic puppies into the UK

It was the increase in the number of puppies and dogs being imported from Eastern Europe that led DEFRA – The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make several changes to the pet travel scheme. Forced into action as fears grew concerning the possibility of Rabies and other diseases being brought to the UK and concerns about the welfare of the animals being transported and breeding stock in the EU countries involved.

The changes include the introduction of a blanket minimum age of 12 weeks for the puppies to be vaccinated against rabies; there will be additional passport security features – including a laminated page for the animal’s details, information on the vet who issues the passport; and the inclusion of a unique passport number on each page.

A new checking provision will require all European Union member states to carry out checks on intra-EU movements. The changes, which will come into force on December 29, were welcomed by Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association, who said the fears about the welfare dogs being transported across Europe and unregulated breeding on a ‘very large scale’ was ‘very real, very significant and happening now’.

“The only way to tackle it is to stop the trade,” he told DOG WORLD.

Speaking recently at the British Small Animals Veterinary Association congress, Deborah Wells, head of DEFRA’s pet and rabies policy team, said that imposing a new minimum age of 12 weeks for rabies vaccination would create a consistent regime across Europe. The current requirement is that the vaccine should be administered in line with the manufacturers’ guidelines in the member state in which it was given, and this has led to complications and confusion as different rabies vaccines are licensed for use at different ages in different states, which makes it is difficult to know whether the puppy has been vaccinated at the right age. The new passport will be less easy to tamper with, she said, harder to forge and will provide more information making it easier to trace animals and the vets involved in preparing the animals for travel. It will also have more details of the veterinary practice which issued the passport, and will give a ‘valid from’ date on the rabies vaccination page as well as the vaccination date itself and the date of expiry. This will spell out that people need to wait three weeks after vaccination before the animal can travel, she said.

There will also be new wording for the clinical examination carried out by vets which will state that the animal must not show clinical signs of disease and it fit to be transported, as opposed to the current instructions that the animal is in good health and should be able to withstand carriage.

The number of animals, mainly dogs and cats, travelling under the pet travel scheme has risen from 8,000 in 2011 to 150,000 in 2012 due to the relaxation in the scheme’s rules and the illegal importation of puppies was a growing concern in the UK. People are buying puppies online, taking them to the vet and finding out that the documentation was false. There has been an occasion where a passport claimed the puppy was between 19 and 20 weeks old but two vets who assessed it said it was no more than ten weeks. This meant the date of birth on the passport was fraudulent, and as a result the puppy went into quarantine.

Joe Moran, the RSPCA’s senior parliamentary adviser in European affairs, said that the pet passport system was being exploited by illegal traders for commercial purposes. Puppies were being imported from central and Eastern European countries and the rules on non-commercial movements were being ‘flouted’, he said. The lack of checks caused ‘huge welfare implications for disease outbreaks, particularly rabies’, he said.

Mr Hargreaves said he welcomed any changes which made it easier to trace the dog’s history and the vet who had prepared it for travel, as he had concerns about the animal’s age being determined being able to trace the vet involved.

“Unlike England, on the Continent it is not possible to track the animal back to where certification took place, so it will be a significant deterrent if vets are made aware that if they are cavalier with the age of the animal or other details they may be held accountable,” he said.

“There is a tranche of people abusing the system and using it to bring in animals for commercial sale. We are confident that is happening and they want animals to be as young as possible because that makes them more saleable. I have seen a prototype of the new passport and the fact that it is laminated once it is signed makes it hard to re-write or alter.”

“Any fears we have about puppy farming in the UK and Ireland are probably nothing compared to what it’s like in Eastern Europe; animal welfare would be minimal if at all.

“Another issue is the potential importation of disease, but it is important to keep the two concerns separate – as the welfare issue is a colossal problem while there is a only small risk of the importation of rabies and smuggling puppies is the biggest disease risk.

“We don’t want to scare people. The welfare problem of transporting dogs all over Europe and unregulated breeding on a very large scale is very real, very significant and happening now. We know that and the only way to tackle it is to stop the trade.

“The puppy buyers themselves have to take responsibility. They must be more careful and source puppies responsibly. They should ask questions and buy from reputable breeders – and in this regard we want people to get behind our puppy contract.”

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