Letter: Britain is free of rabies because of its quarantine laws

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The Independent Online
YOUR editorial, ''Mad dogs and Englishmen'' (20 November) which favours the quiet acceptance of relaxed rabies regulations, is misguided. By your own statement, ''nobody has died of rabies contracted in Britain for nearly a century'', although ''every couple of years someone dies of it in a British hospital after being bitten abroad''. Surely this implies that British regulations have been wonderfully effective in preventing home infection and that efforts to ameliorate them should be strongly resisted. You concede, albeit grudgingly, that infection nearly always leads to horrific death but there is no ''nearly'' about it. Once symptoms appear it is fatal. No confirmed case has ever recovered.

However, probably of greater importance to many pet owners is the fact that relaxation of restrictions will be expensive and inconvenient. It is likely that all dogs and cats will have to be identified by electronic tags under the skin, licenced and vaccinated every year. People who are short of money will attempt to bypass the regulations and sooner or later the disease will arrive.

I have no knowledge of the official policy but it is possible that animals in certain areas will then have to be kept housebound or chained, strays will be rounded up and many destroyed. Wildlife will suffer and may have to be eradicated in certain areas. Oral vaccine in bait may be needed for wild predators, with increased rates or taxes to cover the administrative costs. The added demands on our already strained police and state veterinary services require no elaboration.

Leonard Black

Veterinary surgeon

Guildford, Surrey