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Chips down for pet passport

ANTI-QUARANTINE campaigners were up in arms when it was revealed that the Government's much-vaunted Pets Travel Scheme, which came into effect on Monday had an unexpected downside. If a microchip could not be located in any animal entering the UK - even if this was a British pet which had been taken abroad by its owners - then the animal would be liable to undergo six months quarantine.The problem was highlighted last week by the Daily Telegraph who reported the case of 'Harvey', an eight year-old Dalmatian, one of the first animals due to benefit from the new scheme.

Harvey, owned by James Handley and his French-born wife Joelle of Godalming, Surrey had a microchip inserted by local vet Philip Underwood last September, in order that he could accompany his owners on trips to and from their second house in France.

The chip was tested four times by the vet when the dog had his first and second anti-rabies vaccinations, when his blood was tested to ensure that the vaccinations had 'taken' and also when he was issued with his official 'pet passport' papers in January.

However, on February 15th, when Harvey was again at the vets to be treated for lameness, Mr Underwood conducted another routine scan to show the Handley's how wonderfully effective the microchip was, only to find there was no reading on the scanner. Two other scanners also failed to show a reading.

Fearing that the microchip may have migrated in the dog's body, Mr Underwood x-rayed Harvey, but found that the chip - a Swiss-made 'Tracer' marketed by the Bayer animal health company - was still in place between the dog's shoulder blades.

Mr Handley immediately contacted the Ministry of Agriculture who insisted that Harvey should be fitted with another microchip, but also re-vaccinated and blood tested to comply with the scheme. Bayer agreed to pay the costs of the procedure.

But MAFF added with bureaucratic precision that if the chip's failure had gone unnoticed, or had happened after the dog left Britain, Harvey would have to spend six months in quarantine when he failed a scanner check upon re-entry to the UK.

Mr Handley said; 'I was shocked when the vet told me what had gone wrong. I was upset that Harvey would have to endure the whole vaccination and chip procedure again. I didn't think that such a thing could happen and I would have been very annoyed if the chip had failed while we were in France.

'This should serve as a warning to other pet owners to ensure that their pets' chips are working properly.

Bobby Flight, a product manager for Bayer confirmed that Harvey's chip had failed but made the rather bizarre claim that it had been damaged by a heavy blow - even though Harvey showed no signs of injury.

Keith Baker, a member of MAFF's Pet Movement Scheme Advisory Committee said; 'We have urged MAFF to draw up a contingency plan to deal with this problem, but it is difficult. It would be the Ministry's fault if anything went wrong and a diseased animal was allowed into the country.'

A spokesperson for MAFF said; 'We sympathise, but if microchips fail, incoming animals will have to go into quarantine for six months. Basically, the owners have to go through the whole process again.

Swift response
Sir John Fretwell, co-Founder of the anti-quarantine pressure group Passports for Pets said; 'The MAFF response seems excessive. We now need a common-sense approach, which does not require re-vaccination and putting an animal into quarantine if a chip does fail.

'It must be possible for MAFF to check the documents, the vet who installed the chip and the company which supplied it to establish that the animal is registered on the database. There is no need to be heavy-handed.'

Sir John's words drew a swift and curt response from Agriculture Minister Lady Hayman, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph: 'The correct procedure fort identifying the animal is crucial to maintaining the level of protection of public health previously given through quarantine. Without it, it is not clear that health certificates relate to the animal with which they are presented. If it is not possible to read the microchip, then the animal will indeed initially be imported into quarantine. It may be possible to identify it conclusively by other means.

'If so, then the animal would be released from quarantine. Such cases would need to be assessed individually.

'It is not the Ministry's intention to be, in Sir John Fretwell's phrase, 'heavy handed'; simply to be satisfied that health conditions are properly respected.'

Zut Alors! Tattoos for dogs in France or Pas De Certificates . . . just to add confusion to the PETS Travel Scheme, the French authorities have decreed that French vets will not be allowed to issue Pet Health certificate and Tick/Worm Certificate) to British dogs taken by their owners for tick and worm tests before returning to the UK unless the dog is tattooed as well as microchipped.

In France, there is a compulsory dog registration scheme, and the favoured method of identification is the tattoo. Officials from MAFF were hastily trying to reach an agreement to exempt British dogs from this requirement with their French counterparts late last week. However, it looks as though the UK has once again fallen foul of a Gaelic shrug of indifference... even though the much-despised British quarantine laws have been relaxed to allow Continental pets to enter the UK with their owners without the need for them to be quarantined.

Dogs - This article has been reproduced courtesy of Nick Mays of Our Dogs where it first appeared on 3 March 00

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