The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) was due to begin as a pilot programme on 1 April, but has been brought forward to 28 February to have it fully operational by the Easter holidays. The change was announced by Baroness Hayman, an Agriculture minister, and will allow families travelling during the February half-term holiday to take their pets.
If the pilot is successful, PETS will come into full operation in 2001, in effect scrapping Britain's century-old quarantine laws. At present, a six-month quarantine period is imposed on pets brought into the country to try to protect the nation from rabies.
The new proposals follow a long campaign by the pressure group Passports for Pets, which argued that quarantine requirements were cruel and unnecessary when the risk of rabies from continental Europe was negligible.
Owners wishing to bring their pets home from EU countries, and Switzerland or Norway, after 28 February - as well as blind and deaf people bringing guide dogs or hearing dogs from New Zealand or Australia - will have to comply with requirements to minimise the risk of rabies.
Pets will have to be fitted with an identity microchip and vaccinated against rabies, must have had a blood test at least six months before travelling overseas and must also have had an official PETS certificate confirming the requirements. Only cats and dogs that leave the UK after the start of the pilot scheme will be permitted to return without undergoing quarantine.
During the pilot scheme, entry points to the country will include sea crossings from Calais to Dover, and into Portsmouth from Cherbourg, Caen, St Malo and Le Havre. Rail journeys via the Channel Tunnel will also be covered, as well as flights to Heathrow from Australia and New Zealand for guide dogs and hearing dogs. Further air routes and exact details of carriers taking part in the scheme will be released shortly, and pet owners are warned not to book tickets for another month while the details are finalised.
Lady Fretwell, who chairs Passports for Pets, said she was "delighted" that a date had been fixed for the start of the pilot scheme. "We have thousands of members, including deaf and blind people and members of the armed forces who have suffered a great deal of unhappiness over the years because of this old-fashioned voodoo over rabies and quarantine," she said. "It is a disgrace that guide dogs and working dogs have been barred for so long from travelling with their owners."
Chris Lawrence, the RSPCA's chief veterinary officer, said 28 February would be a "momentous day" for pets and their owners. "It is important that pet owners who want to travel next year have their animal microchipped and vaccinated by a vet," he said.
The British Veterinary Association said that it was not aware of vets complaining of being overwhelmed by applications. The number of owners applying was in four figures.Reuse content