Passports for pets scheme is extended

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The Independent Online

The long struggle to make overseas travel easier for owners of cats and dogs took another step forward yesterday with the announcement that a further 15 countries and territories will be included within the "pet passport" scheme.

The long struggle to make overseas travel easier for owners of cats and dogs took another step forward yesterday with the announcement that a further 15 countries and territories will be included within the "pet passport" scheme.

All are rabies-free areas that the Government believes pose no more threat than the 22 western European nations already on the list.

Yesterday's move was welcomed by campaigners who have long fought for the relaxation of regulations admitting pets into Britain. But there were also warnings by veterinary surgeons and animal welfare experts that while the system greatly reduced the risk of admitting rabid animals into Britain, other animal-borne infections could still be introduced.

Announcing the extension to the scheme, the Agriculture minister Baroness Hayman said that the additions would not be incorporated until next January but she was giving pet owners six months' notice because of the extensive preparations required.

Since February, when the pilot scheme was introduced, 5,000 pets have entered Britain from the 22 countries included. Owners are required to ensure that their animals have been vaccinated against rabies, are fitted with an identity microchip and have had a blood test at a recognised laboratory before they will be issued with the passport.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: "We are announcing the extension early to give pet owners who want to travel further afield time to get ready. By and large, because of the huge publicity campaign we have run, we have found that pet owners have been very responsible and have arrived with their pets fully prepared."

The new list includes Australia, New Zealand, and Japan but officials point out that the scheme is unlikely to result in an immediate flood of arrivals because at the moment only three airlines travelling into Britain will carry animals - British Midland from Palma and Amsterdam, Finn Air from Helsinki and Lufthansa from Frankfurt.

Of the 5,000 pets that have entered Britain since February, only 130 have arrived at Heathrow, with the bulk entering by the Channel ports or through the Channel Tunnel.

Lady Hayman said that she would write to British Airways, asking the company to clarify its position on whether it intends to take part in the scheme. All other airlines flying to Britain from the newly admitted countries would also be contacted. She said that many of those included had a strong expatriate or British military presence. The position regarding the United States - not yet listed - is to be reviewed next year.

Lady Frettwell, a veteran campaigner with the group Passports for Pets, said she would continue to push for the US to be included in the scheme. "We have a lot of members who are from North America where veterinary standards are very high," she said.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals welcomed the scheme's extension but said it still had concerns about glitches which arose during the pilot period, in particular the 12 per cent of pets whose entry to the country was delayed because they had not received adequate treatment against ticks and tapeworms.

Rob Quest, manager of the animal reception centre at Heathrow, said the failure rate on arrival was between 20 and 25 per cent. Excluded pets make the short trip to the quarantine accommodation.

He said most problems were caused by poor completion of the forms that guarantee the dogs and cats have been treated for tapeworm between 24 and 48 hours before embarkation. "The fact that each country has a different form doesn't make things any easier," he said.

There is also concern that owners might be lured into a false sense of security by the scheme. Earlier this year a dog died after returning to Britain having been infected with a malignant jaundice by ticks while in France.

Keith Baker, vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, said: "I think the countries on the new list pose no more risk than those already included. But it is important that people travelling from these countries abide by the protocols that have been set down."

The full list of countriesand territories added to the Government's pet travel scheme is: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Cyprus, Malta, the Falkland Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, St Helena, Ascension Island, Barbados, Montserrat, Bermuda and Hawaii.