09:00AM, Thursday 07 September 2017
Molly Watt with Isabella
A deaf-blind woman from Maidenhead has blasted Heathrow Airport staff for taking away her guide dog and leaving her feeling vulnerable and distressed.
Molly Watt, 23, who has Usher Syndrome, a condition which affects hearing and vision, landed at Heathrow Airport with black labrador Isabella on Saturday.
But upon arrival from her two-day trip to Berlin, staff at Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC) took issue with the 20-month-old dog and said she should have been given precautionary tapeworm medication at a vet in Germany before returning to the UK.
Isabella, who Molly relies on, was then taken away and put into quarantine by HARC.
“I literally just burst into tears,” Molly said. “Taking my guide dog is like taking my eyes off me. I just said ‘no, you can’t be serious’.”
She added: “We were just seen as criminals. It looked like we were trying to smuggle something illegally into the country.”
Government rules state a dog must be seen by a vet in the country it visits to receive tapeworm medication unless the trip is short, in which case medicine can be given in the UK before leaving.
If that is done, it should be logged in the dog’s pet passport. But in the eight years Molly has flown with a guide dog, she says she has never been alerted to this.
Unaware of the rules, it meant although Isabella had been given medication before departing, no note of it was made in the pet passport.
Molly usually contacts British Airways ahead of a flight to inform the airline about her guide dog, and said she had never been informed by the company about the rules before.
Information about taking dogs abroad needs to be more accessible to people with disabilities who cannot access the advice – including details posted on government websites – easily, she said.
The incident happened because HARC and British Airways staff who dealt with Molly during the four-hour ordeal had a ‘lack of training’ and ‘lack of awareness’ about disabilities, she said.
The Oldacres resident, a usability and accessibility consultant, had been in Berlin to speak about hearing aids at a convention.
She had travelled with her mum, Jane, who could help her get back to Maidenhead, and was told she could pick up Isabella from Heathrow the following day.
But on Sunday Molly said HARC told her Isabella had not been given tapeworm medication yet, which she needed before being released.
Molly was finally reunited with Isabella on Monday.
“That is an incredibly long time for me to be without my guide dog,” she said.
“I am deaf as well, so I was feeling quite vulnerable.”
Molly said being without her guide dog had taken ‘literally two days out of my life’.
She added she is now ‘apprehensive’ about flying again.
A spokeswoman for British Airways said the company provides ‘clear guidance on our website, and on the phone to the person making the booking, on the importance of complying with Government rules when travelling into the UK’.
She added: “When it became clear a section of Isabella’s pet passport was not up to date, our staff did all they could to assist to ensure she could return to her owner as soon as possible.”
A spokesman for HARC said it had a ‘legal duty to ensure animals and pets entering the UK are free from disease’.
“Animal health legislation for passengers travelling with service dogs is the same as for pet dogs,” he added.
“On this occasion we felt it necessary to perform a temporary quarantine as there was no evidence to suggest the dog had received one of the veterinary treatments necessary for entry into the UK.
“Our staff are fully trained to assist members of the public with a disability.”
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