Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:32 UK

MPs join fight to free rescue dog

MP Bob Russell, Darcy the rescue dog and handler John Ball
Darcy with handler John Ball and Bob Russell MP

Two Essex MPs have called for changes to quarantine laws after a search and rescue dog was locked up on its return from an earthquake zone.

Darcy, who could find survivors in the aftermath of a UK terrorist attack, was impounded for six months on Thursday after returning from Indonesia.

She is the only search and rescue dog with Essex fire service.

Colchester MP Bob Russell and Angela Smith, MP for Basildon, have called on the government to review the law.

Mr Russell has tabled a motion calling for rescue dogs to be exempt from "antiquated" quarantine laws, while Ms Smith has promised to take up Darcy's case with Defra, the Government department responsible for quarantine laws.

Sniff out survivors

A Free Darcy campaign on Facebook has attracted more than 600 supporters.

The four-year-old Border Collie, who was quarantined at Stanway, near Colchester following a week-long trip to Sumatra, is trained to detect by scent whether there are any survivors following a building collapse.

Dogs can be tested for the disease so there is no danger that she could possibly be bringing rabies back to the UK
Chief Fire Officer David Johnson

During her first overseas mission, she was able to indicate to her handlers that there were no survivors buried under the rubble of three villages.

Chief Fire Officer for Essex, David Johnson, said Darcy would be able to put the same skills to use in the aftermath of any terrorist attack in the UK.

"The Government invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in creating a search and rescue capability in Essex to serve the region if terrorists attack.

"But at the same time they let a vital part of this resource be locked away for six months."

One other UK rescue dog, one of two available to the fire service in Kent, is also in quarantine following its return from Indonesia.

Rabies inoculation

Mr Johnson added that quarantine laws were created "for a different situation, from a different time" and should now be changed for rescue dogs.

Darcy has been inoculated against rabies, and received a booster immediately before she left for Indonesia, he added.

"Dogs can also be tested for the disease so there is no danger that she could possibly be bringing rabies back to the UK," he said.

"During her time in Indonesia she did not leave the team's sight and did not come into contact with any of the local dog population."

A spokesman for Essex Fire and Rescue Service said no other European countries impose quarantine on their rescue dogs.

A team of 18 search and rescue dogs sent to Sumatra were available for operations as soon as they returned home to Switzerland, he added.

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