Welsh administration say that a Ukrainian refugee cannot have her cats with her

NEWS AND COMMENT - Montgomery, Powys, Wales: You may have heard about the Homes for Ukrainians programme in the UK in which UK citizens put up Ukrainian refugees in a spare bedroom or a second home that they might have. There have been some wonderful stories such as one family ending up with a billionaire living in a beautiful home next to his mansion! But there have been some bad stories too of breakdowns in relationships between the host and the refugee resulting in the refugee leaving the home and becoming homeless. But by-and-large it is working well it seems to me.

Ukrainian family separated from their pets by Welsh quarantine rules.
Ukrainian family separated from their pets by Welsh quarantine rules.  Family photo.

But in this instance, there has been another breakdown and it concerns domestic cats and a pet squirrel. I have read that half the refugees coming into the UK from Ukraine have a pet of some sort, normally a cat or dog. Therefore, the arrangements as to how to deal with companion animals is vital to the success of the scheme.

As I understand it, the UK rules in general with respect to refugee pets are that the government will pay for any quarantine, vaccination and microchip costs. Once the companion animal has been vaccinated against rabies and had a blood test to confirm that they have developed antibodies they can then be released from quarantine and go into the home where the family is staying. 

This means that they can be reunited at the earliest possible opportunity while protecting the UK from a possible rabies infection. Rabies was eliminated from the UK many, many years ago. But it is fairly prevalent, as I recall, in Ukraine. This is a major problem in respect of importing pets from Ukraine into the UK.

The trouble is that the Welsh administration have devolved powers in this respect and they have decided that even if rabies antibodies have been detected in the companion animal they cannot be reunited with their owner and therefore they remain in a quarantine facility many miles away.

And this is what has happened in this case. A family escaped Ukraine in a Volkswagen Polo. They travelled across Europe with three cats and a pet squirrel. The mother has a daughter who is eight-years-old who is special-needs. There are three other children. They had barely settled into their new home when they considered leaving because their pet cats are being kept in a cattery 170 miles across the border in England.

Lena, 53, the mother is distraught about the Welch rules which bans pets from staying with Ukrainian refugee families. Apparently, she has lost faith in the system and would prefer to go back to Ukraine than be without her pets. Her daughter relies on the animals for her well-being. I guess they are therapy animals for her.

The UK government website does not state that the Welsh have different rules to the English. A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: "We have concerns about how the current home isolation process can be monitored and enforced effectively. It is for this reason that we have taken the decision to uphold quarantine in authorised facilities as the safest option to protect both animal and public health."

On my experience, the Welsh are more cautious than the English which accounts for this more cautious approach. I think it is unfair and unreasonable. I think it is over-cautious and I think they should have discretion as to what to do and make an exception in this case. It is incredibly sad that a woman who has escaped Ukraine is considering going back because of this rule that the Welsh are adamant in keeping.

Lena's husband is in Ukraine fighting to defend his country. She has an app which notifies her every time an air raid siren goes off in her home city. It is heartbreaking for her. The Welsh are intransigent and have prioritised the protection and health and welfare of all animals in Wales by reducing their risk of exposure of rabies over the health and welfare of this family and perhaps other families. It's understandable but I think if the UK generally consider the rules to be acceptable, the Welsh administration should follow them.

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