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Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from the Associated Press, May 3, 2002

London - The British government is preparing to allow dogs and cats from the United States and Canada to enter Britain without suffering the misery of six months in quarantine kennels.

They believe it is possible to extend the two-year-old "pet passport" scheme, which operates for animals travelling from the Continent, Australia, Japan and Hawaii, to North America from next year.

The move will delight thousands of American diplomatic and service families, as well as showbusiness stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who like to travel with their pets.

President George W. Bush, who is frequently seen leaving planes with his Scottish terrier Barney or his springer spaniel Spot, is among the high-profile figures who might benefit from a relaxation in the quarantine law.

When Taylor and Richard Burton visited Britain during the 1960s they were forced to keep their four beloved dogs aboard a yacht moored on the Thames.

Two years ago, when the actress was due to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace for her investiture as a Dame, she was upset to learn that Sugar, her white Maltese terrier, would have to stay at home in spite of her best efforts to lobby Downing Street.

Former president Bill Clinton was said to have been upset when his beloved dog Buddy was kept out by the law.

Actress Elizabeth Hurley is among those who joined the campaign to change Britain's quarantine laws, writing to Tony Blair, after her alsatian Nico died in quarantine. Singer Belinda Carlisle, artist David Hockney and musicians Sting and Sir Elton John also joined the campaign.

Elliot Morley, the animal health minister, hopes to make a formal statement in June. Any new system, however, must be foolproof and is likely to be stricter than that approved under the present scheme.

The new plans follow two new studies of the threat to Britain of rabies and other diseases if the draconian anti-rabies laws are removed for pets from the U.S. and Canada.

Animals travelling from North America would be subject to the most stringent checks, identity controls and a history of recent travel movements might also be required.

Scientific experts believe that it is possible to relax the quarantine rules for pets, provided they have been micro-chipped, vaccinated against rabies, and blood-tested to ensure that the vaccine is effective.

Pets must also be subject to delousing and deworming treatments and a full veterinary inspection. North American pets will also be obliged to register with a vet in Britain to ensure that regular checks are made after arrival.

There is particular concern to ensure that pets from North America do not carry diseases which can be passed to humans as well as other animals.

Joe Brownlie, professor of Veterinary Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said: "There would have be a full veterinary check on every animal coming into the U.K. from North America and rules insisting that owners register their pets with a vet on arrival in the country."

He said that rabies was rampant in the United States, especially on the east coast, and that every effort had to be made to protect British wildlife from the disease.

The main threat to humans was an animal with ringworm, he said, but this skin infection was easily spotted in a veterinary check. He was anxious, however, that pets from North America could spread heartworm, which is a parasite that lives in the blood and causes heart congestion, and brucella, a severe infection which causes high fever and can trigger arthritis, though these conditions too would be identified by a veterinary check.

These issues are now being discussed by Whitehall's advisory committee on dangerous pathogens.

The British government has been under pressure to reform the quarantine laws by the U.S. Administration because many people are now refusing British postings because of the anti-rabies laws.

Peter Kurz, agriculture counselor at the U.S. Embassy in London, said that diplomats were turning down the chance to work in Britain because separation from a pet caused too much family hardship.

He went to see Morley last month to urge a change in the law. There are 250,000 Americans in Britain.

Kurz said that the risks of relaxing the rules would be acceptable. "The people who want to bring in dogs are responsible pet owners. We are not talking about stray dogs. These animals are looked after and it can be quite an expensive proposition."

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