THERE will be a case of rabies in the UK by September, according to a dog transporter who witnesses puppy smuggling and breaches of the pet travel scheme on a daily basis.
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 there is rabies and other highly infectious, dangerous diseases.
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. But despite these figures 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.
Mr Anderson said he has spoken to DEFRA about the terrifying scenario he fears will happen within a few months but that still nothing is being done.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” he said. “The system is flawed and a farce. There will be a report of a dog being infected with rabies this year, and I believe it will be reported openly and publicly by September. That’s my wager.
“And my guess is it will be a rescue dog because they are being taken in off the streets and have had time to become infected by another dog, whereas all the puppies being brought in are really too young and have only been with their mother until they are transported at ten weeks old.
“I don’t like to be the bearer of bad tidings but it’s only people in positions like ours who can see what’s happening,” Mr Anderson said. “Nothing’s going to be done because it involves spending money. DEFRA won’t do anything until rabies is here; that’s the only thing that will make them sit up and take notice.”
His views echo those of Dogs Trust veterinary director Paula Boyden, among many others, who told the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) in December that there was ‘a lack of acknowledgement and engagement’ on DEFRA’s part about what was happening.
“But a case of rabies in the UK will make the Government pay attention,” she said then. “And we fear other diseases too, not just rabies.”
‘Making a killing’
This week MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who raised the subject in the House of Commons last week, said smugglers were ‘making a killing’ importing dogs through ‘a loophole which shouldn’t be available in the first place’, causing a threat to the health of humans and animals. “We must do all we can to stop them,” he said.
Veterinary chief Robin Hargreaves agreed. “Although the risk of rabies from imported pets may be low, when criminal activity is involved ‘all bets are off,” he said.
French Bulldogs are being imported to the UK from countries such as Romania, Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic and being sold via the internet for as much as £1,500 in the UK, Mr Anderson said.
“I saw one guy with 15 Frenchies in three cat baskets. I see this kind of thing daily, with puppies being passed from van to van at service areas approaching the port. Do I report it to anyone? Who to?
“It seems that more and more rescue groups in the UK are taking in dogs from Eastern Europe. These animals are being brought in illegally too – although the charities and rescue people are unaware of that – with a few dogs being declared when in fact there are 20 or 30 in a van making the trip for about £150 plus fuel.”
Recently a limit was set of five per person on the number of dogs and puppies transported at one time to put a check on commercial travellers. But a source in the transportation industry told DOG WORLD that this was being circumvented by people getting on the vehicle before it is checked and disembarking either shortly afterwards or before it enters the UK.
Mr Anderson said he was not sure why charities and rescue groups were now finding homes for foreign dogs. “We have so many unwanted animals in the UK anyway, who then have to be put down if they aren’t found homes,” he said.
“In Romania, strays and street dogs are caught and given 14 days before they are put to sleep – and they’re very rarely claimed. Quite a few rescue people seem to be jumping on this bandwagon.”
The number of puppies being imported from Europe has soared since pet travel rules were relaxed and brought in line with the rest of Europe in 2012. The laws allow dogs, cats and ferrets to enter the UK from an EU country only 21 days after vaccination against rabies – even though the incubation period of the fatal disease is considered to be longer – with no requirement for confirmatory blood testing or a six-month waiting period.
Two years ago the number of dogs imported from Hungary increased by 450 per cent on the previous year; from Romania by 1,150 per cent and from Lithuania by 507 per cent. Rabies is present in all these countries, where widespread puppy farming is commonplace, the RSPCA said.
And although the incidence of rabies in dogs and cats throughout Europe is diminishing, the reverse is true in Romania – which became a member state in January – which, in the past five years, has accounted for 55 per cent of the EU’s rabies cases.
Mr Anderson said he had offered to meet DEFRA representatives and ‘educate them’ on what was going on, but that he had had no response.
“We have vehicles running to and from Europe on a regular basis,” he said. “We know exactly how these puppy farmers and sellers operate.
“A false pet passport can be bought in Eastern Europe for ten euros and look totally authentic and carries a vet’s stamp. The person can travel without anyone stopping them. The transporter may declare one puppy on their sticker in the window of their vehicle – the new limit is five per person – and have 20 others sedated under a blanket in the vehicle. If anyone checks they’ll only look for one dog.
“And if they are caught out there’s no penalty – they’re simply told to go back from where they came. So then they just find an alternative route or time to come in. But very few are turned back, and checking involves someone leaning out of a window and looking at the driver, that’s it. No one gets out to check paperwork or find out if there are any more dogs in the vehicle.
“It’s an absolute, utter farce; most vehicles are just waved through. The system is completely flawed.” Those transporting animals legitimately via Eurotunnel – which accounts for 70 per cent of the animals brought in under the pet travel scheme – book in advance and when they arrive in Calais leave their vehicle to go to the designated area for the paperwork to be checked. Otherwise vehicles just go through with no checks being made.
“People could do that but they would be smuggling,” a spokesman said. “The responsibility of policing it resides with the Government, not the transport operator, according to DEFRA. We don’t have the power to determine whether people are smuggling or not apart from checking their documents. Those at the immigration point can stop, search and arrest.”
Last week Mr Fitzpatrick used a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the Commons to discuss measures to halt the illegal European trade in puppies, and his fears are shared by numerous groups and charities including APGAW, the Dog Advisory Council, Kennel Club, Dogs Trust and RSPCA.
His Bill, which calls for the introduction of a fixed penalty charge for those caught smuggling dogs into the UK, is due for a Second Reading on April 4.
Responding to Mr Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DEFRA George Eustice said the safeguards in place to prevent rabies entering the UK had been checked on several occasions.
“There were some changes to pet travel scheme but we still think it is very stringent, in that all dogs coming in must be vaccinated and go through a period of three weeks before they can be moved,” he said.
However, he agreed to meet Mr Fitzpatrick, the Bill’s sponsors and various charities to discuss the matter further.
“I can also say that the European Commission is giving consideration to rescue dogs coming from Romania,” he said. “There was concern last week about an incident where a dog with suspected rabies came from Romania to the Netherlands, even though that was subsequently ruled out.”
Mr Fitzpatrick told DOG WORLD: “The relaxation of the rules has led to a free-for-all black market for puppy smugglers.
“This illegal trade is a danger to our health and the health of our animals. If we don’t do more to stop it then the smugglers will continue to operate with impunity, the animals will continue to suffer and we may we may see the return of dangerous infectious diseases.
“The fixed penalty I have proposed provides another tool in the box, and could be introduced flexibly with higher penalties for more puppies smuggled, in the same way that smugglers of cigarettes can be fined more, the greater the number of cigarettes they carry.
“Any action must be backed up with more on-the-spot checks and tighter security at our borders. There are unscrupulous individuals and organisations out there, prepared to take advantage and make money at whatever cost to humans or animals and we must do all we can to stop them.”
Mr Anderson said he believed that the lack of action on DEFRA’s part could be attributed to lack of finance.
“Nothing is going to be done because it involves spending money,” he said. “I raised this with the Kennel Club 13 months ago – I said it was going to happen and we should get ready for it.
“DEFRA has passed all the responsibility to border control who are overstretched already. DEFRA will not recognise the problem because they are convinced the rabies threat is low. The pet passport system has created a monster.”
DOG WORLD put Mr Anderson’s views to DEFRA. A spokesman responded: “We do not recognise this assessment. The risk of a dog with rabies coming into the UK remains extremely low and we carry out the same stringent checks on dogs coming in to the country as ever.
“We would urge anyone looking to buy a puppy to ensure it comes from a reputable supplier and ask to see the puppy interact with its mother.”
DEFRA’s view is not shared by APGAW, which is made up of MPs. A number of welfare organisations have contacted the group about ‘this serious issue’, and at a meeting in December experts warned politicians about the threat of disease spreading as a consequence of the weak controls.
“They were particularly strong on the issue of rabies entering the UK, seeing it as very real threat,” she said. “APGAW feels it is vital that the Government addresses this quickly and starts by simply increasing spot checks at ports in Dover and Holyhead.
“APGAW also believes that something must be done to educate potential buyers of the puppies who are coming through, that unless they come from a reputable breeder where you can see the mother and with the right paperwork they should not buy them.
“Often these puppies carry a high disease risk as well as having been kept in poor welfare conditions. This needs to stop being a lucrative business for these people illegally bringing puppies into the UK.”
British Veterinary Association president Robin Hargreaves said enforcement should improve and animal buyers educated: “Our members have also been raising concerns with us about the perceived lack of enforcement at UK borders, and we have been raising these issues directly with DEFRA,” he said.
“While we recognise that it would be impractical to check everything, we are pressing DEFRA to ensure that enforcement is a priority to try to crack down on illegal imports.
“Work is taking place at a European level to try to improve the pet passport scheme to make passports more tamperproof and to ensure that no puppy can come into the UK under 15 weeks, and these measures should help.
“We know that the risk of rabies from legally imported pets is very low, but once criminal activity is involved all bets are off. Consumers have a lot of power to cut off the source of these illegal puppies.”
The KC is also worried about the relaxation of the pet travel scheme’s rules and the increase in the number of puppies coming in from Eastern Europe.
“These puppies are often being sold for a cheaper price with forged vaccination certificates and microchips registered to a fake address and owner,” said secretary Caroline Kisko.
“We have joined other major welfare organisations such as the Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home to highlight the issue and its unintended consequences in Parliament… We also attended a European Commission animal welfare conference last year where a large number of member states expressed similar concerns and a willingness to collaborate to tackle the issue of illegally imported dogs.” Ms Boyden said Dogs Trust had ‘significant worries’.
“We have expressed its concerns for some considerable time about non-compliant puppies and rescue dogs being brought into the UK,” she said.
“The situation has not changed and we have significant worries about disease entering the UK. This includes those diseases not covered by the legislation. We will continue to voice those concerns as we feel the current system of checks is inadequate.”
The RSPCA said it hoped that the Commons debate would prompt ministers to take action before rabies or another disease was brought to England. The charity’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, said: “Too many people importing puppies from Eastern Europe are more concerned about their profit than the health risks their actions carry.
“They are importing popular breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs from puppy farms in Eastern Europe by claiming they are personal pets, before selling them to unsuspecting buyers who are unaware of the health risks these animals pose.
“We hope the discussion in Parliament during the Ten Minute Rule Bill will show the Minister the extent of concerns among politicians, and that he will use his power to make positive change and address the increased risk of rabies returning to our shores.” – See more at: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/111686#sthash.qzJpGyQk.dpuf