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



      There aren't many housewives who would run a 24-hour help line from their own home, but June Hamilton volunteered for it, and that's just the beginning.  Incensed by Britain's animal quarantine laws, she also works as a full-time volunteer for the Quarantine Abolition Fighting Fund (QUAFF), which she founded in 1995.

      At present, all domestic animals entering Britain face six months' quarantine.  However, following allegations of profiteering, unsanitary conditions and maltreatment of pets, many pet owners feel that it is time to change the law.

      "Quarantine," says June Hamilton, "is preposterously cruel and scientifically unjustifiable." Furthermore, according to her legal advisers, it is illegal. 

      This is why QUAFF is taking the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to the High Court.  The case has already passed through the preliminary stages and is now listed for the 15th and 16th of March.

      Last week however, June Hamilton was so incensed at being described in the House of Commons as running a "pet-smuggling organisation" that she issued a press release explaining the aims of her group - with staggering results.

      "We've been inundated with requests for membership and petition forms," Ms Hamilton says.  "What we're doing is rather exceptional, because it's the first time that a High Court case against a government has been entirely funded by small contributions.  But now it's extraordinary.  So many people want to join QUAFF that we've had to stop answering the phone.  What we really need are more volunteers to help in the office."

      QUAFF already has over 3,000 members in 40 countries all over the world, many of them waiting for an end to quarantine before they come home with their pets.  It employs a secretary, Joan Speers, but everyone else works unpaid.  Legal fees are met from a separate fund and donations come from all over the world.

      "Caged and Enraged, a fund-raising group within the armed forces stationed in Germany, recently sent us £6,300, for example," explains Ms Hamilton.  "Obviously, this issue is very important to them, but it is also vital for blind people who rely on guide dogs."

      Herself half-Danish, June Hamilton is married to a Navy officer.  Apart from foreign postings, the family (they have four sons aged between 7 and 21) travels frequently between Denmark and the UK.

      "Quarantine isn't about preventing rabies entering the UK," she continues.  "It's about money.  Kennels charge enormous sums for their services.  Six months in quarantine can cost up to £3,000 and a QUAFF member was charged £250 just to have her cat collected from Gatwick for a journey, which had already been paid for by another client, which only lasted an hour and a half.

      "It's ridiculous.  No-one has died of rabies contracted in western Europe since 1924; and anyway, these days pets can be vaccinated.  Allowing properly identified, vaccinated and blood-tested animals into the UK simply will not result in a rabies epidemic, and MAFF know it. 

      "But the government are frightened that they might have to pay the kennels owners compensation in the region of £10 million if they abolish quarantine.  That's why they're dragging their heels.  If they give three years' notice, they won't have to pay up."

      She laughs.  "What they don't seem to realise is that if we win, when we win, pet owners will have grounds for claiming compensation in the region of £280 million.  We're already collecting names..."

      When Britain signed the Treaty of Rome in 1973, the British government obtained a special derogation to maintain quarantine restrictions "for the time being", on the grounds that it was absolutely essential for the protection of the health of British people and animals.   Since then, science has moved on and now Britain is the only country in the world operating a quarantine system.  QUAFF's legal advisers therefore argue that under Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome, Britain's derogation is no longer justifiable because Britain's rabies-free status can be maintained using less onerous means, ie identification, vaccination and blood-testing.

      Ms Hamilton however, isn't content with taking MAFF to the High Court.  She also writes newsletters to QUAFF members, lobbies MPs, circulates petitions, and collects information about quarantine kennels.

      "We gather information about pet smuggling too," says Ms Hamilton.  "We suspect that about 5,000 pets a year enter Britain illegally - which makes a nonsense of MAFF claims that quarantine protects Britain from rabies."

      The QUAFF help line was set up for people finding themselves in difficulties over bringing pets into the UK.  When Sarah Cohen, believing that quarantine had already been abolished, arrived at Gatwick on a BA flight from Madrid carrying a cat in her arms, QUAFF helped her with the legal aspects and advised her about choosing a quarantine kennel.

      "It's chaos," admits Ms Hamilton.  "But we'll get there in the end." 



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