Passport for pets gets ambassador's backing

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The Independent Online
THE DAPPER Pavel Seifter, 60-year-old ambassador of the Czech republic to the Court of St James's, is used to achieving the impossible. For many years before the the velvet revolution of 1989, he worked as a window cleaner in Prague.

He had been sacked as a university lecturer after the Soviet invasion of 1968 for refusing to tell lies. Twenty years later, he was still cleaning windows - even as he gave interviews to foreign journalists during the peaceful rebellion that ended one-party rule.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Seifter will be equally successful in his discreet attempts to expose what he sees as the ludicrousness of British quarantine laws.

Dozens of dogs - wolfhounds, greyhounds, basset hounds, Jack Russells, golden retrievers, you-name-it - gathered on the manicured lawns of the ambassador's Hampstead residence yesterday, to celebrate the "liberty and joy" of the release from six months' quarantine of the ambassador's 11-year-old schnauzer, Cutty (short for Calamity).

The party also celebrated the emergence from quarantine of Eddie the French bulldog, belonging to the embassy counsellor, Zdena Gabalova.

Both Mr Seifter and Ms Gabalova were keen to insist that, as foreign diplomats, they would not dream of criticising existing British law. None the less, the message was clear yesterday, even in the embossed card that arrived for "Mr Steve Crawshaw and pet". (And yes, thank you, Dillon the three-month-old spaniel had a fine time yesterday).

Under the regulations, dogs can travel back and forth across Europe, as long as they have the appropriate vaccination certificates or "pet's passports" - but cannot come into Britain unless they are locked up for six months or, as often happens, smuggled in without any certification.

The Czechs pride themselves on their slyly-defiant attitude towards authority. At the welcome-home party, Cutty duly won the Miss Jailhouse prize for the dog that had best survived six months' quarantine. In a nostalgic reference to the politics of yesteryear, another prize was for the dog that was "best able to find the hidden microphone, otherwise known as bug".

Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong and the most vocal critic of the quarantine laws in this country, was unable to be present, but sent a message of solidarity. Mr Patten has repeatedly emphasised the "painful and expensive farce" which means that his two Norfolk terriers, Whisky and Soda, are still living in France in order not to spend time in quarantine.

Campaigners say there has been no case of rabies in a quarantined dog for 27 years. The ambassador said that he hoped to invite Mr Patten for a special dogs' welcome party if his two terriers are finally allowed into the UK, after a change in the law. "We will hold a reception - and serve whisky and soda, naturally," he said.