Taking a Guide Dog to Britain
by Donald Campbell Baker
The great news is that since late 2002, it has been possible to bring a dog into Britain without having to have the animal in quarantine for six months. The more sobering news is that the process has many steps, takes a minimum of six months, and a service dog is given no special privileges. As guide dog users know however, the ability to have one's guide available adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of any outing.
Before I list the steps that must be followed, perhaps I should explain why authorities in the United Kingdom believe that such strict procedures are necessary. Rabies is a feared disease that is fatal to animals and humans alike if not treated in its early stages. After a long, difficult campaign, Britain eradicated rabies in the early twentieth century. There have been one or two serious outbreaks since then, but they have been rigorously put down. The government's dedication to remaining rabies-free is the reason for these stringent procedures.
Here then is a list of steps that must be followed exactly in order to have your dog admitted into Britain without having to go through quarantine.
Now, let's look at the fun part. One can get the most out of the long observational period by beginning to plan the trip. You will have plenty of time to find the best airfares, decide on the length of your stay, and plan which places you will visit. There are restrictions on which airlines you can fly. The British government has authorized only a few airlines and specific departure cities for dog transport into Britain. Currently, Virgin Atlantic Airways, British Airways, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines are the primary airlines. According to a British government official, United Airlines has made arrangements with the United Kingdom, but has not yet implemented a program. American Airlines (which I flew) has withdrawn from all pet transport arrangements with Britain. Even if your nearest major airport is not on DEFRA's list, don't worry. You can fly a domestic airline to New York, Newark or Boston and fly to Britain from one of these cities. It will be easier on your dog if you can break up the trip. Airline policies change; check to see if the airline will permit your service dog to travel in the cabin of the aircraft.
- Proving to the United Kingdom your dog is rabies-free. Regardless of your dog's previous vaccination record or how recently he received his last shots, no vaccination counts for Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, unless it occurs after a microchip has been implanted. The microchip number must be recorded for each of the procedures to follow. The recommended chip is the ISO (International Standards Organization) chip which can be read all over Europe. It has a 15-digit number and is virtually impossible to find in the United States. Your best bet is to get a 10-digit chip which can be read domestically and at most European ports of entry. My guide dog Nigel was inadvertently given an Avid 9-digit chip. Fortunately, this domestic chip can be read at Heathrow Airport and at other ports of entry in Britain.
- A new rabies vaccination is administered and is cross-referenced with the microchip number.
- After waiting for approximately four weeks for the rabies antibodies to fully form, a blood sample is taken for laboratory testing.
- The blood sample then must be sent to an authorized lab for the test. The British government recognizes the test results from only one civilian laboratory in North America (there is another laboratory authorized for military personnel). The civilian lab is at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
- When your veterinarian receives the results, and the antibodies are above the proscribed level, you can begin the six-month observational period beginning from the date the blood sample was taken. During this period one must be aware of any signs of canine illness. The dog should not be allowed to travel to any country not approved for the Pet Travel Scheme.
- Preparing the documents. Your veterinarian will record the medical procedures that have been performed on the Health Certificate document (available from the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office in your state capital). The document is then forwarded to your state's USDA veterinarian for signature and official seal. The fee is $24. It is important that your veterinarian be experienced with international regulations and documents. The USDA maintains a list of qualified veterinarians and not every veterinarian's work will be accepted. It is wise to monitor the accuracy of each step as it is performed. When you arrive in Britain, you will be the one held responsible for the correctness of the documents.
The Internet is wonderful for travel plans. We found it was efficient to book places to stay via e-mail. E-mail exchanges allowed us to make sure that a guide dog was welcome, to confirm rates, to book dates of stay, and to work out any other particular matters of concern. Of course, this tends to lock in your itinerary, but if you have been thoughtful in planning your trip, you will find that having welcoming lodgings each night will allow you to spend more of your time enjoying the attractions.
- Oh, just one more thing. Shortly before you depart, it is required that your dog have a tick and tapeworm treatment. DEFRA requires a professional treatment using only approved chemicals. The treatment details are entered into the dog's Health Certificate and the timing of the treatment is important. It must be administered no more than 48 hours or less than 24 hours before your flight leaves the United States for Britain.
That's all there is to it! My guide dog Nigel and I managed it, and so can you. Have a great trip. You won't regret the effort it took to go.
There are many Web sites that you will find useful. Here are a few I like.
British Embassy in the USA, an official British government Web site, www.britainusa.com , is full of general information as well as the latest on pet travel and links to DEFRA for the most current version of the rules.
To find the USDA veterinary office for your state, obtain the Health Certificate document, or to find out whether your veterinarian's work is recognized by the agency, visit www.aphis.usda.gov .
Rick Steves Europe through the Back Door, www.ricksteves.com , contains extensive information on traveling skills as well as his popular guidebooks. I find the experiences of travelers posted on the site's Graffiti Wall both useful and addictive.
If you are flying into London's Heathrow Airport, I recommend you call or write Liz Shickle SVS, DEFRA's veterinarian at Heathrow, several days before departure. She will conscientiously review your documents for completeness, making your entry into Britain a civilized experience. Contact her at +44 208 759 7002 or Elizabeth.Shickle@defra.gsi.gov.uk .
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