My home is bubbling with excitement. My wife Marina and I are getting ready to drive across Europe with our children for our summer family holiday.
And ‘family’ means the dog comes, too. Storm, our five-year-old black labrador, enjoys these epic journeys as much as any of us. It’s not a holiday without her.
She has the best seat in the car — I cram our luggage into a box on the roof rack, rather than cramp her luxury quarters. When we pull over at a petrol station, my children Ludo and Iona always bring her a treat from the shop (like any labrador, she can swallow a baguette or a Wiener schnitzel in one bite).
Every year, we make the same joke: Storm’s name changes from one country to the next. In France, she’s Jacques or Pierre. In Germany, Hans, then Gunther in Austria. I know these are boys’ names, but she’s a dog — she doesn’t care.
Our holiday wouldn’t be the same without our waggy best friend. But this could be our last vacation in Europe with Storm, thanks to a ridiculous tangle of red tape.
The Fogle family set off for a holiday in Austria with their dog, Storm, but red tape means it could be their last vacation in Europe all together
From next year, UK pet passports will not be valid. As things stand (and Whitehall guidance is far from clear, as usual), anyone who intends to visit the EU with a dog, cat or ferret will need to have their pet vaccinated for rabies.
A month later, they will need to have a blood sample taken. The blood will be sent to a laboratory, not in Britain (our facilities will lose their EU accreditation from January 1) but on the continent.
The blood will be analysed and ratified, and a certificate issued. But that’s not the end of the process. Owners will have to wait a further three months before they can take their pet abroad.
If this doesn’t sound ludicrous enough, allow me to add an extra layer of insanity. Vets have received no notification of the correct procedure. So no one is prepared, and there’s no guarantee the proposed system will work.
The whole sorry mess came to light this week as part of the Government’s ‘Let’s get going’ campaign to encourage travel. How is this going to make anybody want to head off on holiday?
As the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith told the Today programme this week: ‘It looks to me, frankly, such a faff, you are just not going to bother. Pets of Britain, you can say farewell to the Dordogne.’
So much about this scheme is so hopelessly irrational, it makes my head spin. Why on earth should British pets require a rabies test? The last case contracted here was in 1902.
There was a time when we were so vigilant about keeping out the killer disease that any animal entering from Europe had to be placed in quarantine for six months. Thankfully, we’ve left those miserable days behind. Pet passports have been the norm since February 2000: they certify inoculation against rabies.
That has sufficed to prevent the disease from crossing the Channel for two decades. Why should Brexit make any difference?
To comply with pet passport rules, we have a sticker on our windscreen to announce there’s a dog in the car (which is pretty obvious to anyone looking through the back window). At the end of the holiday, Storm has a check-up with an Austrian vet who doses her with flea repellent (just to be safe) and pronounces her good to go.
Millions of British holidaymakers follow these regulations without difficulty.
It isn’t clear either whether continental visitors to Britain will be affected.
The only way this muddle could be made worse is if European pets have to wait four months before being allowed home. That would really flatten the British tourism industry.
Without exaggeration, this is a crisis in the making, one the holiday industry cannot afford after the catastrophe of travel bans. Some 100,000 pet passports are issued in Britain annually.
Ben, pictured on a paddleboard with Storm and his sister-in-law’s dog Nero, explains the impact of UK pet passports not being valid from next year
Since the average lifespan of a dog is more than ten years, it’s likely there are more than a million documents that will become redundant from January — and perhaps a million families forced to overhaul their holiday plans.
Many people are already having grave doubts about going abroad. Cruises are on hold indefinitely, after the Foreign Office ann-ounced last week that no one should think of booking one.
I do not underestimate the pandemic’s seriousness. My career is based on international travel. But surely the Government understands pets are not the problem? Dogs do not catch Covid-19, nor (bar freak circumstances) do they spread it.
Our pets have been saviours during lockdown, rescuing millions from loneliness. For countless families, including mine, anxiety’s best antidote has been a cuddle with a bundle of affectionate fur.
Britain’s dogs and cats have never been more important, never more such an essential part of our homes. That’s why it is more crucial than ever that they can come on holiday with us.
The alternative is a kennel. That works for some people, but not for all. I know I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my vacation if I knew Storm had been left behind, however well the kennel staff were treating her.
There’s also the expense. Last year, as well as Storm, we travelled with my sister-in-law’s dog Nero, and Bica, who belonged to my wife’s parents. Where we live in the South-East, it’s not unusual for kennels to charge £25 per night, per animal — potentially £75 a day for us.
Over a two-week holiday, that’s more than £1,000: a prohibitive expense for most families. It’s staggering — to be told to pay £1,000 extra for the misery of leaving your beloved pets behind. My gut response is: ‘No way!’
So many of my best holiday memories are connected to dogs. Invariably on the long drive we’ll stop at a lakeside beauty spot and all rush into the water, with Storm bounding and splashing beside the children.
Then, when we reach the Austrian town that is our base, we have the perfect excuse to chat to locals. No one thinks it is odd if you talk to another dog-walker, however bad your German is.
And as we meander back to Britain, we have the small satisfaction of knowing, by not flying, we have minimised our environmental impact. Dogs encourage us to be that little bit greener.
Let me list the benefits: the gigantic financial boost to tourism on both sides of the Channel, the colossal savings for families, the eco-friendly element, the incalculable bonus to our mental health. That’s far too much to be wrecked by one badly thought-out policy.
We must not stand for it. Dilyn, the Downing Street rescue dog, should have a word with the PM. The Cabinet has to be told — cut the red tape and make sure hassle-free European travel for pets continues to be the norm.
We will not leave our best friends behind.