Has the EU been good for pets?
You might think the pet vote on the EU exit issue is quite niche. But there are (according to the University of Bristol's research) approximately 10 million dogs in Britain. And approximately just as many cats. More than half of British homes will have a pet dog or cat or both....
Consequently I have sent some pretty growly questions to Mr Gove and the Better Within press department to ask for all the details of their dogifestos. Will I get a reply?
I have pointed out that many people not normally interested in voting could become motivated to turn out if there was a clear animal welfare angle.
Leaving the EU could mean we can revert to the pre-2012 Pet Passport which could save us from a disaster that is now being seen as otherwise inevitable.
Leaving the EU could allow us to stop the flood of sickly underage Eastern European puppy farmed dogs (often from actively infected rabies areas).
Since the relaxation of the Pet Passport system in January 2012 - which allowed 15 week old dogs to enter the UK on Pet Passports - there have been vast numbers of bulk imports of obviously very much younger puppies into the UK for resale via pet shops and online.
(Only this week the RSPCA issued another terrifying report on this (reported in the Mirror here), before that Dogs Trust and before that C4 Dispatches did some astonishing secret filming that showed how our borders were pretty much pointless to the vile puppy farmers.)
15 weeks is too old to be commercially viable, but the puppy farmers are simply faking documentation and bringing in very much younger allegedly rabies-vaccinated dogs in massive quantities - and no one is stopping these white vans - they are just waving them through.
Defra say it is a matter for Trading Standards - and we all know how overstretched they are! And when you discover the puppy you bought online and have now bonded with has rabies, I am sure Trading Standards will be a great comfort. Very rarely is anyone caught and when they are the consequences are tiny and the money they are making vast.
The Times carried a story a few days ago about a man who was convicted of bringing in: "more than 120 dogs from Lithuania to be sold in the UK."
Aidas Gostautas, 44, made more than £50,000 selling bulldogs, shih tzus and other breeds for up to £1,000 online having brought them into the country by train through the Channel Tunnel.
"Lithuania, Gostautas's native land, has a high incidence of rabies and many of the puppies had to be put down by their new owners shortly after they were bought."
The article continues..."Figures released by the RSPCA showed that nearly 200 dogs are brought into the country every day. Last year 70,000 dogs were brought into the UK by gangs, compared with 1,800 in 2011.
"David Bowles, assistant director of public affairs at the RSPCA, said that existing legislation meant that puppies are "traded like scrap with no regard for their welfare".
"One of the dogs sold by Gostautas was infected with rabies and the owner of another, which died shortly after it was bought, was refunded £1,000 but sworn to secrecy and forced to return the animal's body and passport."
All the veterinary bodies were opposed to this 2012 relaxation and it has led to a huge increase in sickly or dangerous illegal imports.
Our monthly magazine clearly remembers questioning Defra about this relaxation which they said was inevitable - the civil servants said they had no choice as we had to have parity with the rest of the countries in the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
There are some countries that are outside the EU who have adopted their own much superior conditions for the import and export of pets without it disadvantaging legitimate people who want to travel with their pets. If we leave the EU presumably we too could listen to the vets and the charities and redesign our Pet Passport system to dissuade this dangerous bulk import of underage pups and meet the other concerns the vets had about the transfer of other health problems much less well known than rabies.
However, it would be very unpopular if leaving the EU were to mean the end of the Pet Passport scheme completely - as that would negatively affect many pet owners and rescues.
A simple return to the pre 2012 relaxation of the Pet Travel scheme would satisfy pretty much everyone if it could be a stated aim. Six months would be the youngest a pup could legally enter the UK and border officials could not be duped into thinking a van load full of tiny 7 week old pups were really six months old. (Although we have already proposed that all bulk imports should be presumed to be underage and therefore illegal as 15 week old pups would not be commercially viable for resale as they would be past their sell by date.)
Could the 'better within' offer to stand firm against the EU on this issue and defend the safety of our pets and our people by going back to the very efficient pre 2012 Pet Passport?
I was a member of the pressure group Passports for Pets started by Lady Fretwell and we were all horrified by the affect of this ill conceived relaxation in 2012 as it undid almost everything we had set out to achieve and left this country much less safe. Indeed all the talk among the veterinary profession has been how they deal with rabies ever since this change. There was even talk of all vets and vet nurses being vaccinated as a precaution as no one could be sure of the provenance of this flood of underage imports.
The other piece of EU legislation that has unfairly affected many pet owners has been the Cascade legislation which forced vets to prescribe certain species-specific drugs over much cheaper generic alternatives. If that could be looked at that would be hugely popular - as it would probably reduce the cost of pet insurance and give respite to those managing long term health problems with their pets who are now unable to shop around for the most cost-effective drugs. Cascade legislation was originally designed to control which drugs entered the food chain, but as thankfully in this country we don't eat dogs and cats, it has always been an unwelcome and inexplicable anomaly.
Would pet owners be better in or out of Europe? We await the responses from both sides of the debate. Let's hope they do respond as this does seem a subject that lots of voters care about.
Also, ironically, the UK is one of the only members of the EU that has never signed the European Convention for the protection of Pet Animals.
Look who has.... Britain.... a nation of animal lovers???
Our politicians have signed us up to all the things that damage pet welfare but avoided the very one that protected them!
If you feel strongly about this issue, we urge you to write to your MP click here to find your MP asking for their opinion re the suspension of bulk imports of traded pups and making the point that this would influence how you are likely to vote on Brexit.