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Pet passports mark end of British quarantine

Fifteen-year-old William Dowell is back in England after a kidney transplant and cancer treatments in France. And his dog Cassis is home, too.

Cassis traveled across the English Channel on the first of Britain's new pet passports, rabies-free certificates that mark the abolition of a law requiring all arriving dogs and cats to spend six months in quarantine.

Diplomats and celebrities in this nation of animal-lovers have long campaigned against the 100-year-old law, aimed at keeping Britain free of rabies. But it was William's letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair that finally got things moving.

"I asked him could he please change the law and please speed up the change," William said. "I told him I was worried I may never see Cassis again _ which could go two ways because dogs die in quarantine, so it wasn't just me."

Under regulations detailed this week, owners will be able to bring pets into Britain from 22 Western European countries. The program will likely be extended to the United States, Canada and the Caribbean in 2001.

Each passport certifies the pet has a tiny microchip implant to verify its identity, has been vaccinated against rabies and has been treated for ticks and tapeworm 24 to 48 hours before arrival.

Cassis, a 21-month-old Pyrenean mountain dog, traveled with William, his mother and brother to their home in Coniston, a village in the Lake District in north England, 10 days ago.

The family had moved to France a year ago because William, whose father is French, needed a kidney transplant and could get one more quickly there. He was diagnosed with cancer in the spring, shortly before the family was due to come home.

It will be a few months before the Passports for Pets program, first announced in March, is operating for everyone. After that, officials believe about 300,000 pets could be on the move each year _ from pampered pooches of expatriates to English dogs accompanying their families on vacations.

Currently, 9,000 pets _ 40 percent from the United States _ are put into quarantine each year. Some fall ill, many pine and others die. It also costs pet owners around $3,200 to kennel an animal.

Mary Fretwell remembers the homecoming of Bertie, her basset hound, quarantined when her husband retired as British ambassador to Paris in 1987.

For two months, she heeded the kennel owners' advice not to visit Bertie.

"Then I had a dream," Fretwell said. "I went rushing down there. He was in a deep, deep depression. After that, I went three or four times a week and crawled into his cage with him."

When he was released, she said, Bertie couldn't bark and his paws were raw from the kennel's cement floor. Angered by his plight, she founded a pressure group in 1994 to end the quarantine law.