The high cost of keeping Britain rabies-free

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The Independent Online
Only the UK and Ireland now insist upon six months' quarantine.

Sweden and Norway, rabies-free for longer than the UK, successfully introduced a vaccine-based system in May 1994.

In New Zealand, a dog or cat coming from a rabies-free country is now restricted to the owner's home for 30 days.

Japan, also rabies-free, has no quarantine for animals from rabies-free countries and only 14 days' quarantine for animals from elsewhere provided they have a certificate of vaccination and a health certificate.

Last year 5,394 dogs and 4,126 cats were committed to quarantine. Although the animals affected by the law are not particularly numerous, their owners are often high-profile and know how to run a campaign.

Since 1972, 2,500 out of 170,000 animals in quarantine have died, none from rabies.

This year, for the first time, one case of bat rabies was recorded in the UK.

The average cost of the required six-month quarantine is pounds 1,500.

The RSPCA promotes anti-rabies vaccination for dogs and cats along with an identity chip to establish ownership and confirmation of inoculation.

Those who can afford to go to their vet and have it done for pounds 25, otherwise the RSPCA will do it for pounds 5.

Campaign groups, among them Vets in Support of Change, insist advances in rabies vaccination and the scope for implanting identification microchips in dogs mean quarantine is no longer necessary for animals from rabies- free countries.

Some government ministers argue that it would be expensive to set up a simple system to check animals and their documents at a few selected points of entry.

The Swedes run such a system which admits 10,000 pets a year at a total cost to the owners of pounds 400,000.

In the UK owners pay some pounds 12m a year to have their animals quarantined. There has not been a single case of rabies in the UK, in or out of quarantine, for 26 years, except the bat.

The quarantine laws have resulted in widespread smuggling.