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Saturday, 26 February, 2000, 14:00 GMT
Dog has its day in Chunnel

BBC Correspondent Tim Hirsch and his cocker spaniel Gus, with the
Tim Hirsch and Gus prepare for their voyage of discovery


By BBC correspondent Tim Hirsch

On Monday, my cocker spaniel Gus and I will board Le Shuttle at Calais, go through the Channel Tunnel and help make a little bit of history.

We'll be among 16 owners and their pets taking advantage of the first day on which dogs and cats can enter Britain legally without having to go into quarantine for six months - the first, that is, since the anti-rabies laws were introduced more than a hundred years ago.

Long road

But it's been a long, expensive and sometimes bureaucratic route to get to this point.

The Pet Travel Scheme, introduced now in pilot form after years of campaigning against resistance from the Ministry of Agriculture and many vets, does not mean you can simply pop in for a rabies jab and hop onto the next ferry.

The story for Gus started 18 months ago when I took him to have a microchip fitted.

This was before details of the 'pet passport' scheme were announced, and is encouraged by the police and the RSPCA so that lost pets can be identified by their unique number, which comes up when a special electronic reader is swiped over the chip underneath the skin.

But now the microchip is an essential first step in the road to pet travel.

Lab tests

Then last September, with the scheme just five months away, he had his rabies vaccination at my local vet.

That was followed a month later by a blood test to make sure the jab had been effective.

The blood sample has to be sent off to one of just 11 labs throughout the whole European Union registered with the Ministry of Agriculture, only one of which is in Britain - my vet sent the sample to a lab in Sweden.

Dog behind bars in quarantine If the paperwork isn't correct - quarantine awaits
When the positive results came back after a few more weeks, I was ready to collect the 're-entry certificate' - the closest thing to an actual passport, though instead of a photo it has Gus's microchip number to identify him.

But a word of warning here. If you have not already had the blood test by 28 February, there is a further six-month wait until the certificate can be issued.

So if you are only getting started on this now, unfortunately it is too late to take your pet on a summer holiday.

Paperwork

Then in the last stages before travel, two more bits of paper to worry about. First you have to make sure you have an export certificate allowing you to take the pet into the countries where you'll be travelling.

These are issued by your regional Ministry of Agriculture office - ask your vet for details, and do it at least a fortnight before you travel.


The nightmare is that if one part of this documentation is wrong... the pet must either stay on the continent or face six-months in quarantine

Tim Hirsch
Finally, and this is probably the most awkward part of the process, the rules say you must give your pet treatment for ticks and tapeworms between 24 and 48 hours before arriving at the port to return to Britain.

This should be available at any registered vet. Obviously if you are away for less than two days this must happen in Britain, otherwise you must find a vet in the country where you happen to be at the relevant time.

And when you get to the port (only ferry services to Dover and Portsmouth, and Eurotunnel), you must sign a form declaring the dog or cat has not been out of the qualifying countries for the last six months. They include all West European countries, including, bizarrely, Vatican City!

Paws crossed

Having taken Gus through all these steps, at a cost of more than 200 in vet visits and treatments, we should be all geared up to pass the checkpoint at the Eurotunnel entrance on Monday.

The nightmare in all this is that if one part of this documentation is even slightly wrong, or if for some reason the microchip number cannot be read, the pet must either stay on the continent or face that six-month stretch in quarantine.

So paws crossed, Gus!

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See also:
22 Dec 99 |  UK
Pet 'passports' brought forward
03 Aug 99 |  UK Politics
Pets' passport to freedom

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