Unequal treatment of animals from Ukraine – Joop

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© cc photo: European Union

The Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) does everything except what it was created for: overseeing the health and welfare of animals. We’ve known for some time that NVWA is weak, but sometimes I can feel even more angry than I was at this incapable governmental organization. For example, about the unequal treatment of animals from Ukraine.

This time it is about adopting “individual” animals from Ukraine. Why add “individual”? Because the NVWA doesn’t actually hinder the large-scale breeding trade in Eastern European dogs from countries where rabies still occurs, but anyone who wants to adopt a “single” animal from war-ravaged Ukraine can get their chest wet.

Communication from NVWA about bringing animals to the Netherlands from Ukraine is ambiguous to say the least. The information on the site has been constantly updated in recent months, which I understand, of course. In such crises the rules and norms change. But humans and animals now suffer from different bases for similar situations, while the stakes are small.

Let me start by saying that rabies – rabies – is a life-threatening disease for humans and animals and you don’t want to catch it in the Netherlands or anywhere else. Ukraine is classified in EU regulations as a “third country with a high risk of rabies”. If you want to get an animal from Ukraine, it must be at least 7 months old and proven to be vaccinated against rabies. European legislation states that a titer test must be carried out 30 days after this vaccination, which indicates whether the animal is actually protected from rabies. This is followed by another 3-month waiting period and only then the animal can cross the border into the European Union. By way of comparison: For EU countries, animals must be at least 15 weeks old and vaccinated against rabies at 12 weeks old.

Fortunately, rabies has rarely appeared in Ukraine in recent years. Even in unvaccinated dogs, the disease was rare. According to the calculations of the German Friedrich Loeffler Institute for Animal Health, the probability that a dog will be in foster care when it crosses the border is 1 in 300,000. This extremely low risk applies to unvaccinated dogs. In vaccinated dogs, the risk is virtually nil. So when war broke out in Ukraine and people fled with their pets, there were calls for the rules to be relaxed. As expected, the Netherlands was not the first to agree to this, but in the end our country also heeded the advice of the European Commission to amend the rules on refugee animals.

So it had to be communicated. The NVWA website reports that travelers from Ukraine can bring in animals without a mandatory 3-month waiting period. Great, I thought as a journalist who was there for work, then I could save a puppy close to my heart and I’ve been taking care of him for two weeks. Certainly not, NVWA said, and the animal was confiscated. It’s only about refugees who are allowed to bring animals.

Let’s not forget that this is, or should be, about “risk-based implementation”. This was also the idea behind relaxing pets for Ukrainian refugees. It comes to the risk of introducing rabies. So the risk factor for pets from Ukraine is almost zero. But the risk of bringing rabies from the bread-breeding trade mentioned above is great, but is easily ignored. House of Animals has firmly established that rabies manuals for Eastern European puppies are tampered with, but that doesn’t matter to the NVWA. Nothing has been done, while this is exactly where NVWA should act. But now, at very low risk, they have decided to “go ahead”. A literally and figuratively cheap way to pretend you’re actually getting the job done.

The NVWA website states that if you want to do something for animals from Ukraine, you should especially help organizations that work on the border with Poland for example. Well, I’ve been there and the situation for refugees with pets is very complicated. It is simply not possible to send dogs to the Netherlands. What is possible at the borders is to register and fortify them. They are then isolated for a month and then subjected to a Polish, and therefore European, titer test. And this is how you can legally travel to the Netherlands or another EU member state with what you might call a “cat dog” (because you are now Polish). Well organized in and of itself, with a balance between compassion and safety.

But if you were taken straight to the Netherlands, as the journalist wanted with his dog, that’s an entirely different story. For example, a kennel owner approached us and asked if she could take care of a number of Ukrainian dogs from an establishment. I definitely thought, because I have the option to isolate the animals. So she said yes and took the animals, which were accurately passported and electronically chipped, to the vet for registration and vaccination again just to be sure. Then you will keep the dogs in quarantine. The shocked War Dogs who finally seemed relaxed. Until NVWA showed up: “Can we take a look at the condition of the dogs?” “Of course, come on.” If you hadn’t said that. “We confiscate dogs because that is not allowed. They go to a shopkeeper and you have to pay the fee.”

I now have reports of people having to pay close to €30,000 in costs. Because for some reason the quarantine of Ukrainian dogs in the Netherlands does not last a month followed by a titer test, but 4 months due to the extra waiting time after the test. Can someone explain to me the logic of this? And can anyone explain to NVWA what this is doing to these animals? Put it in a cage instead of lovingly caring for it?

It’s war! We provide emergency assistance to people and their pets, but do we allow these “individual” animals to suffocate after being rescued from the exact same misery? I don’t really think we should bring all the animals from Ukraine to Holland, because we’re not solving the massive stray animal problem with them. But with some common sense, preferably in the context of animal welfare and actual risk-based implementation, you can prevent a lot of misery for humans and animals. Combine that with clear, honest communication and I’m your woman.

Dear NVWA, the rules will be relaxed, but it wasn’t clear that they would only apply to refugees who bring in animals. So, if you know that there are a lot of people who want to take animals from Ukraine, then you explain it as follows: “Returning an animal from Ukraine is impossible, unless …”

Indiscriminately bringing dogs to Holland from Ukraine is undesirable and undesirable, no matter how much we want to help them. Only people fleeing from Ukraine are allowed to bring animals with them, a maximum of 5 animals per person. But then I face a dilemma. Since the animals confiscated here are also war victims and their intrinsic value is recognized by Dutch law, I think it is justified that dogs rescued from Ukraine should be vaccinated, microchipped and registered here, followed by a month of (home) quarantine. Just as they do in Poland, the country of the European Union, on the advice of the European Commission. After that month, a titer test is done to see if the vaccination is sufficient and then for its new owner. Don’t punish the love of animals by strict enforcement of rules you’ve been communicating poorly with, which have also been watered down from a humane point of view elsewhere in the EU.

However, there is more to me. We are fighting with the House of Animals against the rogue dog trade. Vaccination against rabies is not for a large part of the puppies that enter our country from the “bread mills” of Eastern Europe. House of Animals showed this and submitted it to NVWA, which later did nothing with it. Why risk-based enforcement? Our latest request for an investigation into the De Meiboom puppy trade in Dessen, which imported 3000 broods of puppies from Hungary last year, was stopped. We are told this in an official letter from the NVWA, because “the war in Ukraine and the arrival of dogs in the Netherlands takes all the time.” They are searching, among other things, on Facebook and Instagram for people who may have brought a dog from Ukraine to the Netherlands.

The NVWA needs reform, but we already knew that, and the mantra “hard when necessary and as soft as possible” is another false cry from a government agency. They can start a shop that sells this kind of nonsense.

It’s time for the minister to explain the insanely long quarantine period of the animals rescued from Ukraine and why they cannot be quarantined at home. This prevents people who have made up their minds to help a war animal from having to pay expensive “storage costs” after confiscation. Just the word “storage costs” like furniture.

Why not exceptionally apply the same rules to this group of people as in Poland, so that animals rescued from war in an unusual way so far can receive a warm basket after a month? Or at least make sure that “storage” no longer means feeling lonely in a cage all those months. I dare say it is cruel to pure animals, for example, to let a puppy miss the all-important period of socialization. Research conducted by the government itself is clear on this. Really, I will personally sue every store owner, and the NVWA who is involved in this, for animal cruelty.

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