Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Rabies - articles by Samantha David


Passports for Ginger and Puss 

      During our seven years in France, we've acquired two cats.  Puss is a neutered ginger tom of extraordinary patience and calm disposition.  Ginger is also a neutered er, ginger tom - but a rather more spiky personality. 

      They're both beautiful, both very much adored and the family wouldn't be complete without them.  So we hesitated when given the opportunity of moving to Belgium later this year.  But a phone call to the local vet and I had all the information I needed.  The cats could come too.  The first thing to do was get them tattooed.

      Dogs can be tattooed with an instrument something like the pliers used to pierce human ears.  Not so cats, they have to be tattooed using a type of electric pen, and they need a general anaesthetic.  We scrambled Puss and Ginger into their hated pet-baskets and loaded them into the car. 

      The vet filled in forms detailing our names, address and phone number, as well as information about the cats - name, breed, colour, coat, age, medical history etc.  Then we had to chose the site of the tattoo. 

      The ear is popular because the tattoo is obvious even from a distance, which might afford some protection from farmers, sportsmen and officials rounding up strays.  But having heard horror-stories about stolen cats having their tattooed ears cut off, we decided on the inside of the thigh.  Anyway, Puss and Ginger have glorious white and pink ears and we didn't like the idea of them being disfigured by blue blodges.

      The tattoo numbers, three letters followed by three digits, came from a book of individually pre-numbered forms, issued only to vets by the Fichier National Felin - under the direction of the Ministère de l'agriculture et de la pêche in Paris.  (The National Cats Register, administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing in Paris.) 

      The forms corresponding to each tattoo were also completed - in triplicate.  One copy is kept by the vet, one by the owners and one is sent to Paris where the information is entered on the national computer register of cats tattooed in France. 

      A quick word of encouragement to Puss and Ginger (both looking most suspicious) and, following the vet's instructions, off we went for coffee.

      An hour later we arrived back to find the cats still out cold, but each one now sporting a bald, newly-tattooed patch inside his right thigh.  As arranged, they had both also been vaccinated against rabies, which is obligatory for taking cats out of the country, and various other things like flu, which aren't.

      We checked that the forms were correctly filled out, paid the vet 400F (about £45), loaded Puss and Ginger into their baskets and left, keen to get home before they woke up.

      We were now in possession of two out of three official papers required to get our feline darlings out of France and into Belgium.  In fact, according to the leaflet, into a long list of countries: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Germany, Israel, Italy, Libya, Luxembourg, Morocco, Mexico, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and Russia!  Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Turkey and the USA require, in addition, a veterinary examination on entering their countries.    

      Puss and Ginger woke up about an hour after we got home, feeling pretty peculiar but none the worse for wear.  Legs up, they commenced licking operations and before long, they came strolling into the kitchen suggesting that light refreshments might be in order.

      The slight bruising around the new tattoos went down within a few days and their fur has begun to grow back.  Now that we have the Certificates of Rabies Vaccination and the Tattoo Certificates, all we need are the Certificates of Health.

      Cats and dogs in France must be vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days before they travel abroad, and must be examined by a vet and given a Certificate of Health within three days prior to leaving the country.

      Because the rabies virus resides in the brain, there is no test available to establish rabies infection in living animals.  It can only be done at the post mortem stage.  However, rabies is a disease affecting the nervous system, so rabid animals can quickly (sometimes within a fortnight of infection) develop symptoms; 90% showing unexplained behavioral changes and 10% showing signs of numbness or paralysis.

      Given that our sweet Puss and Ginger don't go mad and start biting us, that they show no signs of any other infectious disease, and that the vet has no reason to believe they have been in contact with rabies (us smuggling animals in from north Africa, for instance) then she will issue the certificate.

      Now all we have to do is work out how to persuade our cats to spend two days in the car being driven to Brussels.  Hmmm!  This could be the hard part. 



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