Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Quarantined dog 'free to train'

Darcy is expected to train with her team from December

A search dog impounded on her return from an earthquake zone can train during her quarantine with the Essex fire service, the government has said.

Campaigners have called for Darcy's release since she was locked up for six months in October.

The fire service, MPs and 9,000 supporters on Facebook argued Darcy should be exempt from quarantine laws.

Now, the government has told the fire service she can spend time at a secure facility at their base near Colchester.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs, Hilary Benn, said Darcy will be able to continue her training routine while "maintaining our strict controls protecting the public from the very serious disease of rabies".

'Temporary release'

Darcy, a four-year-old Border Collie, was able to detect there were no survivors under the rubble of three villages, during a week-long visit to Indonesia in early October.

On her return, both she and a dog with the Kent fire service were subject to the same UK quarantine laws as any animal that has travelled outside the EU.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service argued Darcy, their only search and rescue dog, had been inoculated against rabies and was prevented from helping in any UK emergency, including a terrorist attack.

In a letter to Colchester MP Bob Russell, who was among campaigners for her release, Mr Benn said: "In the event of a domestic emergency, if one of the UK's other 20-plus accredited search and rescue dogs was unable to assist, I can assure you that I would immediately consider the case for emergency, temporary release."

Essex assistant chief fire officer Gordon Hunter called the compromise a "victory for common sense".

"Darcy will continue to be kept in a restricted area," he said.

"She is a valuable resource and it is vital that she remains operationally competent."

"Though the quarantine kennels where she was kept were good to her, facilities at Lexden are better-suited to the needs of a search and rescue dog and her training and exercise regime."

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