“Travelling to NI with my dogs will cost me roughly one kitchen refit after Brexit.”

Pooch, cat and ferret owners will have to abide by new laws if they wish to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland or the European Union with their pet following Brexit, and for some Remainers it feels like “the icing on the cake to an already sticky situation”.

From January 1st, before travelling, they will have to acquire an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) from their vet no more than 10 days prior, vaccinate their pet against rabies no more than 21 days prior, treat their pet for echinococcus multilocularis (a type of tapeworm) and microchip their pet, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Once they have arrived with their pet at these locations, they will also need to enter through a travellers’ point of entry (TPE), which for NI includes Belfast Port, Larne Port, Belfast International, Belfast City and City of Derry Port, and will need to present proof of the above there too.

This is because GB has been given Part two listed status under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, which allows pets to travel within EU borders but with extra measures.

For dog owner Jenny Riley, who resides in Cockermouth but travels back and forth from her hometown in NI often with her husband to visit family, getting their three dogs vaccinated and treated for the above could cost them an extra £300 on top of their £400 ferry tickets, which altogether comes to roughly the same price as it is for them to get their kitchen refitted.

“It’s not even a question of whether we can do it, it’s also a question of do we want to do it,” says Riley.

“You would think okay I either have to come for a long time to make it worthwhile, which mightn’t be possible every time, or I have to arrange to put them into kennels, but I hate leaving them behind. They are a huge part of my life. That’s what happens when you have a pet for a long time.”

As experienced travellers, the new laws on pet travel have also put a “damper” on their early retirement plans.

“We rented a caravan last year. Our plan was to travel around Europe and the UK but this alters things. You start to think well actually if we’re both not working anymore and we have to cover all these extra costs now to take our dogs with us, then will we still be able to afford it?” she said.

What may be a silver lining to Riley and others like her in this, however, is that, once issued, AHCs are valid for up to four months for onward travel within the EU and NI. There will also be no change to the current health preparations or documents for pets returning to GB from the EU and NI.

For pet owners visiting NI, though, these added measures seem like a lot of hassle for travelling within their own country. Previously they never had to do anything.

“My worry is that if someone at home takes ill unexpectedly, which is likely in a pandemic, and I need to get to them quickly but want to take my dogs for comfort, I can’t. I couldn’t just drop everything and go like before. I would have to arrange to put them into kennels, which don’t always have room, or ask a friend to take them, which isn’t always a viable option either,” Riley said.

“In a worst-case scenario, one of us would probably have to stay behind with the dogs so that the other could go, which would be awful,” she added.

Emily Jones, a veterinary surgeon from Cockermouth, said that the news felt “very last minute” and that it would probably complicate things for a lot of people.

“Each time you want to return to NI, you will need to get an AHC, which are £60-80 per pet,” she said, “but rabies vaccines, which are £50 per pet, last up to three years.”

Her advice to pet owners facing this issue in the new year is to place their pets in kennels for short visits to the EU and NI as there may be long delays in the first few months whilst the TPEs learn to cope with the new arrangements.

Brexit has undoubtedly presented much bigger issues for both NI and the UK in the last four years, but to suffer the consequences of something that you never wanted in the first place is never fair, says Riley.

“I didn’t want Brexit. A lot of people interpret it differently. But I enjoy having a multi-cultural society. I think it brings a lot of benefits to a country to show that it welcomes people of all cultures, races and backgrounds. I saw Brexit as the opposite of that.

Here, we call them ‘little Englanders’: people that are not interested in going abroad and choose to have fish and chips when they do. They have no interest in experiencing anything foreign or different. I think Brexit favoured these groups of people over people like myself who value multiculturalism. Now I feel like I’m having to pay for these people.”

The UK Government recognises that pet owners will need time to adjust to these changes and is working with the DEFRA on an enforcement approach that takes these challenges into account.

They are also continuing to press the European Commission to secure Part one listed status, stating that the UK currently meets all the requirements for it.  

In the meantime, UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss is advising pet owners to check with their vets “on what they need to do to obtain the correct documentation to travel” and “to find the latest pet travel advice on gov.uk or by searching ‘pet travel’”.