Assistance dog users in Northern Ireland could face a trip across the Irish Sea to bring their animals into the Republic of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Stormont’s Department for Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has said pets would have to enter the Republic through approved entry points.
The ports at Cork and Rosslare are the only approved sea points of entry.
Dublin Airport is also an approved point of entry.
It means a journey from Londonderry to Donegal – normally a short drive – could involve taking a sea crossing to England or Scotland, driving to Wales, going through the official point of entry in County Wexford and then driving north to Donegal.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October, the UK will become what the EU considers an “unlisted third country” under the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
The EU does not consider all non-members to be unlisted but non-EU countries must apply to be listed, judged on veterinary and administrative systems and number of rabies incidences.
“As an unlisted third country, there would be a requirement for pet animals including assistance dogs to enter the EU through a travellers’ point of entry,” said DAERA.
‘It would be terrible’
Laurence McDermott, a guide dog user who lives in Londonderry, told BBC News NI it would be terrible if there was a situation where his travel was restricted.
The 62-year-old is a volunteer with Irish Guide Dogs and regularly travels to Cork and Dublin as part of his duties.
He received his guide dog, a black Labrador retriever called Scamp, during a period living across the border in County Donegal where he is originally from, and so was given the dog by Irish Guide Dogs.
“What this Brexit will do I don’t really know – nobody seems to know,” he said.
Mr McDermott said he would not be deterred from travelling into the Republic by any potential changes.
“I will keep on doing the same thing, hoping it doesn’t change.
“We’ll probably get a pass of some kind for the guide dog if it does.”
Patrick Burke, the chairman of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, said: “We are closely reviewing the situation and will be advising our clients once the final outlook becomes clearer.”
‘Fluid and complex issue’
Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong said she had written to the Northern Ireland Office asking for a meeting to discuss the issue.
“If you do have anyone with an assistance dog who needs to go cross border for hospital treatment or work and they are going as part of their work this is a big deal,” she said.
Guide Dogs Northern Ireland said the issue was “extremely fluid and complex” and while it was aware of potential difficulties it is waiting to be “in a better position to have a more informed conversation”.
It said it was important that guide dog owners are aware of government advice for people travelling with pet and assistance dogs.
“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, guide dog owners may be required to plan their travel up to four months in advance,” it added.
What is going to change?
At present, pets can travel unimpeded between the UK and other EU countries due to the pet passport scheme, which shows an up-to-date rabies shot.
DAERA said there would be “additional certification and health requirements” for animals travelling to the EU after a no-deal withdrawal.
It would mean more rigorous testing before travelling, which could take up to four months.
The rules would apply to dogs, including assistance dogs, cats and ferrets travelling into the EU.
Under the rules, pets are required to have:
- A microchip
- A rabies vaccination
- A blood test, with the blood sample at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination
- A three-month wait after the date of a successful blood test before travel
- An official third country veterinary certificate
- And only for dogs, a tapeworm treatment