Twenty years on

After a century of dogs and cats from continental countries having to go into six months of quarantine before entering Britain, the regulations were considerably lifted and sensible controls applied. That date was 28 February 2000 - just over twenty years ago -and it was a day of celebration for pet owners here in Spain, where many had applied pressure over the years. Andalucía saw the strongest pressure for change, together with the British forces stationed in Germany. A public meeting held in Mijas on the subject was so well attended some two years previously that loudspeakers had to carry the message for change to the overflow audience outside. Speakers included vets, British ministers, the chairperson and representatives of the organisation Passports for Pets.

Over several years government committees had sat on the subject. One committee member told me when the meeting opened that all eleven members were of the view that quarantine worked at keeping rabies out of Britain, so why change it. On conclusion, all eleven were of the opinion that quarantine was inefficient, costly and stressful for owners and pets. Yet nothing happened and the risk of rabies increased because pet owners found ways of smuggling dogs and cats into Britain.

To test the system I took a cage with a toy kitten into an aircraft cabin and on the flight to UK pretended to feed the fake animal. No one stopped me and at Gatwick I sailed through customs with the carrier marked Live Animal. The chance of being apprehended was small. Wh y not have an efficient effective system with sensible controls.

Thanks mainly to pressure from the organisation Passports for Pets, chaired by Lady Mary Fretwell, the British government lifted quarantine and followed the Swedish model, substituting sensible strict regulations allowing dogs and cats to enter Britain from a long list of approved rabies-free countries after vaccinations and other stress-free conditions. That was twenty years ago. At the time scaremongers shouted that it would mean rabies would enter Britain. Time was to prove them to be the scaremongers they were indeed. Pet owners and pets rejoiced.

Rabies does exist in certain countries and many such countries have itinerant and irresponsible vendors who smuggle puppies with false pedigree and vaccination papers into western countries, including Spain. Avoid such so-called bargains and buy only from kennels of sound reputation or rescue kennels where they have been tested. Vaccination of puppies under four months is invalid. Buying pets from a doubtful source means taking a chance of rabies entering Spain and no sane person wants that. I have seen rabies all over the world and have been bitten by a rabid dog and undergone fourteen days of painful injections in the stomach in Egypt. On an excursion across the Sinai desert I had to shoot a pack of dogs suffering from rabies. I will never forget it.

Do not take chances. Buy from a reputable source. Good reputations are hard earned, easily lost.

Now, once we get out of our own unusual quarantine here in Spain, we have to think about the future. Let's hope that Post-Brexit regulations regarding the transport of animals between the UK and the EU remain as they are today.