HL Deb 22 April 1904 vol 133 cc944-8

My Lords, I rise, in accordance with the notice standing in my name, to call attention to the Importation of Dogs Order made by the Board of Agriculture, whereby owners of dogs are separated from their dogs for a period of six months after their importation; and to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether, in view of the fact that no case of rabies has occurred in any dog imported since the present Order has been in force, he will not revert to the practice of allowing owners of dogs to quarantine them on their own premises under such regulations as will prevent the re-introduction of rabies into this country.

It will be generally acknowledged, I think, that the noble Earl's predecessor was most energetic and successful in his efforts to stamp out hydrophobia in this country. At the same time a very strong feeling exists throughout the whole country that some, at any rate, of the regulations which he enforced were unnecessarily harsh even for carrying out the objects he had in view; and perhaps the one which caused the greatest amount of irritation, and even of very genuine suffering, was that regulation which required that all imported dogs should be removed from their owners and kept in quarantine for six months. I suppose that most of your Lordships who are owners of dogs do not very much object when going abroad to leaving them behind, or, if they are taken, can put up with temporary separation from them on returning; or possibly you are in the habit of evading the law, for I understand that at the present moment quite a number of dogs are taken out of this country and brought in again without being detected; but there is a class on whom this regulation falls with very great severity—I refer to people who are obliged to leave the country on account of their health, and are so sentimentally attached to their dogs that they cannot bear to be separated from them, even for a few weeks. In cases where these people are in a critical state of health the effect of enforcing this regulation is very serious indeed.

I am sure that if anybody had suggested to the noble Earl's predecessor that the effect of his policy would be to kill more people of a broken heart than were saved from bites by dogs suffering from rabies, he would have scouted the idea; but I do not think the noble Earl will deny that in several cases sensitive people have been really killed by this Order. I cannot help feeling that the object in view might equally well be carried out in a less harsh manner. For instance, if all imported dogs could be detained at the homes of their owners under capable supervision and with constant inspection by veterinary surgeons, all necessary costs being paid, of course, by the owners of the dogs, I think all danger to the public and inconvenience to the owners might be avoided. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl, in his reply, will hold out some hope that he can mitigate to a certain degree this very harsh regulation, and I am sure if he can show any consideration for the feelings of the class to whom I have referred, his words will be received with great satisfaction throughout the country.


My Lords, the noble Earl prefaced his Question by the statement that no case of rabies has occurred in any dog imported since the present Order has been in force. That is perfectly true, but inasmuch as rabies is a disease which is extremely common on the Continent of Europe, it is only a question of the number of dogs which may be imported, before we shall with absolute certainty happen on one which will develop rabies. The whole object of the policy of the Board of Agriculture has been to stamp out a disease which I think your Lordships will agree is one of the most horrible that can afflict mankind. Mr. Walter Long, one of my predecessors, incurred a considerable amount of public odium by his application of the Muzzling Order, but that Order succeeded completely. At the present moment, and for some years past, there has been no case of rabies or hydrophobia in this country, and, notwithstanding the inconvenience which the dog-owning public suffered from these Orders, the result has justified that temporary inconvenience.

I would venture to remind your Lordships of what has been the course of the regulations made by the Board of Agriculture. In the year 1900, under the Muzzling Orders, rabies had disappeared not only from London, and all the great towns in the North of England, but practically from the whole country and it had become possible to remove the restriction of the muzzle. To prevent reintroduction of infection from abroad imported dogs were therefore ordered to be isolated upon the premises of their owners for a certain period, but it was proved that in many cases it was impossible for those premises to be made suitable for the purpose. In the following year, 1901, it was found that 40 per cent., and at times as many as 60 per cent. of the dogs imported into this country had to be sent to the premises of veterinary surgeons, and the Board therefore determined that as it could now remove the Muzzling Order from the whole of Great Britain, and as it was now safe to permit the importation of dogs from Ireland, which up to then had been prohibited, it was necessary, in order to keep disease out of this country, to make a universal regulation that dogs on arrival from abroad should be sent for detention to the premises of veterinary surgeons.

One of the reasons why it was necessary to do that was that people who were allowed to keep the dogs on their own premises refused to believe that the regulations they were called upon to observe were seriously intended. In the street in which I reside there lives a lady who frankly admitted that the moment she received the regulations she threw them into the wastepaper basket. She did not attempt to confine the dog on her premises, but, to use her expression, it "led its own free life in the streets." I know that a resident in another house in the same street smuggled a dog in without its going through the precautionary probation which is prescribed for all imported dogs. As soon as the Order of 1901 was imposed we found that things began to work smoothly. Dogs were sent to the veterinary surgeons' premises, they were carefully taken care of there, and at the end of three months pet dogs—the quarantine period being six months—were released, if they had been under the care of their owners during the time they were abroad. I have often heard it said that dogs of the kind to which my noble friend alluded are taken such great care of by their owners that it is quite impossible for them to come in contact with a dog suffering from rabies, but I happen to know a lady who went regularly to the South of France whose dog contracted rabies from another dog whilst on her premises, she herself being bitten and having to go to the Pasteur Ins itute in Paris to be treated.

There are two dangers to which we are exposed, the danger that dogs may be smuggled into this country (and there is a considerable amount of smuggling). Dogs are brought into this country dressed up as babies, or under chloroform, concealed in trunks. The second danger is that there are constantly arriving numbers of foreign vessels in our ports. It is computed that 9,000 dogs come in every year on board these ships. I cannot pretend that I think the restrictions imposed are as completely carried out as I would wish them to be. There are cases of hardship. In fact, a gentleman called upon me the other day and told me that I had killed his wife through this regulation; while only two or three days ago an unfortunate lady, who, accompanied by a little dog, went on board a Newhaven-Dieppe steamer to see her son off, neglected to leave the ship before it steamed out, with the result that she was conveyed across, and as we were unable to make any exception in her case, her dog, on its return, has had to be separated from its mistress and sent to quarantine.

I hope and believe that the existing practice of requiring quarantine for imported dogs on the premises of a veterinary surgeon will continue in the majority of cases; but under the new rules it is provided that after a dog is sent to a veterinary surgeon for identification and examination, that proper precautions may be taken, the owner may obtain an Order for removal upon signing an undertaking to abide by regulations laid down by the Board of Agriculture The dog, being in the custody of the owner, will, for the prescribed period, be required to bear a distinctive badge, or harness, bearing the inscription "in quarantine for rabies." If the dog strays from the custody of the owner, it can thus be identified. The harness will be sealed with a seal which can only be removed by a veterinary surgeon, who will be appointed by the Board, and who will pay frequent periodical visits to see that the Orders are complied with. The dog will never at any period of the quarantine be allowed to be without the harness upon it. It will, I admit, be a source of trouble and expense on the part of those who import dogs, and if this is objected to the dog may, as under existing regulations, be left under the care of a veterinary surgeon. I hope there will not be many who will avail themselves of the new rule, which is a concession in the interest of a few persons who feel there is hardship in a long separation of the animal from its owner. If these concessions are in any way abused, if the regulations are not in every way observed, the rules will be at once rescinded, and there will be a return to the Order at present in existence. If there is any indication on the part of an individual of a desire to evade the Orders, the dog will at once be taken back to the veterinary surgeon, and a similar licence will at all future times be refused to that person.