Did you know the responsibility for our bio-security has been devolved to ferry operators and airlines? Did you know that not all countries in the EU are rabies-free?

Channel 4, the BBC, Radio 5 Live, and the Daily Mail and leading dog magazines have all aired programmes, or written articles in the last few months, highlighting the illegal importation of puppies from Eastern Europe from countries such as Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and even Turkey and Russia. Organised gangs, mainly from Eastern Europe, are exploiting the UK’s lax border controls. The puppies are “farmed” in appalling conditions and transported across Europe for the “designer puppy” market in the UK. Since January 2012 a visitor to the UK can now bring in 5 micro-chipped pets. This has led to van loads of 15-20 puppies accompanied by 3 or 4 “owners” arriving at UK ports. There is evidence that the importers do not comply with regulations and are using fake passports. They are also administering rabies vaccines before the animal is 12 weeks old (sometimes at 4 or 5 weeks of age) – the age at which the vaccine actually works.  Anyone who has dogs will know the difference between a “cute little bundle” at 5 weeks and a growing energetic 12 week old puppy.  They then use a false date in the passport to suggest the puppy was vaccinated at the correct age.

Concerns have also been raised by one of the UK’s leading animal charities, as well as rescue centres and vets, about the threat of the importation of rabies and other diseases into the UK,(which has been “rabies-free” for 100 years), as a result of the commercial importation of these puppies. Although there is strong evidence that the illegal importation of puppies from Eastern Europe is happening, I quote from a letter received recently from Mr Heath, of DEFRA:

In the UK, the responsibility for carrying out these checks is delegated to the transport carrier, which will be either an airline, a ferry or cruise company or a train operator

and

“unlike most other European Union (EU) Member States, every pet entering with it’s owner on an authorised route is checked to ensure it does not pose a risk to animal and human health. The EU pet travel regulation does not require checks to be carried out on movements between Member States. However, all Member States are required by regulation to carry out checks on all pets coming from outside the EU”.

How does he know that these checks are being carried out? Do the train and ferry operators and airlines carry out these checks with due diligence? Where is the proof if they do so that we have an audit trail in the event of a rabies outbreak (which will then be too late of course)?  Have other countries delegated these responsibilities to commercial operators as well? If so, who will be accountable if there is a spread of disease due to lack of control? Not all countries in the EU are “rabies-free”. Several countries bordering EU Member States (e.g. Turkey, Russia, Morocco) are not “rabies-free”. Can we be certain that all the EU countries bordering the non-EU countries with rabies carry out strict border controls? With the free movement between EU Member States and lack of border controls, which have been delegated to commercial companies for the UK, I have increasing concern for our bio-security. Any regulation is totally useless AND NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT IS WRITTEN ON unless it is enforced – the clue is in the word: ENFORCED

In June 2013 there was a case of rabies reported in Toledo, Spain (which had been rabies-free since 1978) where a dog was bought into Spain via Ceuta (a Spanish exclave which is not “rabies-free”), from Morocco. The owner made an attempt to get into Spain at Algeciras but was refused entry because the animal’s pet passport was incomplete. A week later he arrived at Algeciras but this time on a boat from Ceuta and on this occasion Section 5 was not checked – the part of the documentation that certifies a serological test has been carried out.

In June, Public Health England advised:

Anyone who has been bitten, licked or scratched by a dog in these areas of Spain since 1st May 2013 is urged to seek medical advice. There is no change to the rabies risk in other areas of Spain. The country had previously been free of rabies since 1978. UK travellers are being advised the following: Those travelling to the new risk areas of Spain above should avoid contact with wild and domestic animals. If they are licked, scratched or bitten by a wild or domestic animal they should wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and seek urgent medical advice either in Spain, or on their return from their GP or NHS Direct.

How did they advise this – was anyone travelling to Spain on holiday in June this year aware of this before they went on holiday?

Investigation and policing of the illegal importation of these puppies has been given to Trading Standards, who have very limited resources to deal with this problem. It is all too obvious that unscrupulous people with no regard for animal welfare or risk to animal, both domestic and wildlife, or human health, will do whatever they can to make money. Unless we take control of our borders, I, along with others, are deeply concerned that we will see an outbreak of rabies in the UK in the not too distant future.

I quote from a DEFRA report VITT 1200/Rabies-Western Europe dated 10 March 2008:

In addition, there is potential for introducing cases of rabies from North Africa, The Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe,” and The control of illegal imports is dependent on effective border controls and vigilance by owners and veterinarians in practice”

I would assume that DEFRA have carried out a risk assessment on the potential for rabies and other diseases being introduced into the UK.  Did they factor in that unscrupulous criminals will do anything to make money?  That our lack f border controls are an open invitation to exploit our love of dogs in the UK? The foreign gangs don’t care that 1 in 5 puppies bought this way will die, or cost their owners a lot of heartache and vet’s bills, or have behavioural and health problems because of the way they have been bred.  Can I please ask anyone who wishes to get a puppy, goes preferably to a local rescue, or for a pedigree puppy to a local accredited breeder, and always see the puppy with its mother

Do not buy any animal over the internet, or from an ad in the local shop which often have just a mobile phone number, no name or address and even state that the puppies have already had their tails docked, (which is illegal).

Vet Marc Abrahams has a petition on the Government e-petitions website calling for all puppies/kittens to be seen with their mother when purchased from a breeder.

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