But that was then. Nowadays, devising a complicated, contrived and confusing solution seems to be all the rage.
I’m talking about the Pet Travel Scheme (RIP), which allowed the controlled and coordinated travel of dogs, cats and ferrets (yes, ferrets) on their holidays to continental Europe and a few other places.
The concept and practice was straightforward, although the notion of a ferret enjoying a fortnight on the Costa del Sol was so abstract it could only be imagined as a surreal dream.
However, the new post-Brexit reality of taking dogs, cats and ferrets to Europe is every bit as surreal as the prospect of a polecat, a pool and a Piña colada.
Last week, as the UK ceased to be part of Europe, simplicity was replaced by something altogether different called an Animal Health Certificate, or AHC. We completed our first one this week. It took a mere two hours. The appropriate ‘gateway’, where the required documents were hidden was as overgrown and difficult to negotiate as the side entrance to a derelict building, hidden from sight and tricky to get through.
Once in, the list of links from which to choose was dizzying, with separate, bi-lingual documents in English and every other European language. For example, AHC07 covers The Non-commercial Movement into a Member State from a territory or Third Country [that’s us] of Dogs, Cats or Ferrets- English/Estonian. There were 22 to choose from.
We thanked our lucky stars that dogs, cats and ferrets had been bundled together on the same certificate.
The practice’s inaugural AHC was for a dog to go to Rotterdam, so AHC05 was selected. It was ten pages long, in both English and Dutch and was made up of text in a font so implausibly small that it necessitated either reading glasses or a magnifying glass, depending on the vet’s age and ocular health.
I needed more help, so grabbed a large coffee and braced myself for a lengthy phone call to the export department at DEFRA. These phone calls are always time-consuming and usually slightly frustrating. The recent requirement to “work from home if you can”, the festive hiatus in normal working hours and the alarm caused by the avian flu outbreak (which continues to spread below the radar, hidden by a more conspicuous virus) meant that my time waiting on hold was longer than usual.
This was made more bearable because the recorded messages are by someone whose voice sounds very similar to Ringo Starr in his Thomas the Tank Engine days: “Press one for Dog, Cat and Ferret travel to the EU; Press two for the Fat Controller’s office,” I kept expecting to hear.
After more than half an hour on hold, I had to hang up without an answer. I trawled the official site a bit more and found some guidance notes that were clearer than those that came with the AHC05. By 11am, the German Shepherd had been checked and certified and was ready to head off on its holidays.
The animal part of the convoluted scheme had been completed with some stress. For the owners though, more checks were required – a health check of their own in the form of a Covid test. Amusingly, this had to happen in the scenic northern town of Barnard Castle. It was a necessary journey but in the wrong direction. I just hoped their eyesight was up to scratch!