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Brexit causes Northern Ireland ferry travel issue for guide dog owner

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Guide dog owner Charlotte Bennie enjoys her regular trips to Belfast.

Living in Newton Stewart in south west Scotland, she finds it more straightforward to get there than to major Scottish cities.

However, she says Brexit will create extra difficulties in catching a ferry from Cairnryan when the Covid rules allow such journeys to resume..

A change in the UK’s status in the EU Pet Travel Scheme on 1 January has also affected people travelling between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.


It means anyone travelling with their pet needs to meet new requirements and there is no exemption for assistance dogs.

Ms Bennie, who is registered blind, said that the proximity of the ferry port – less than 30 miles from her home town – made Belfast an easy option for her.

“I live in Newton Stewart, south west Scotland,” she said.

“It is a long way to the rest of Scotland from here but it is a very short distance over on the ferry to Northern Ireland.

“The ferry journey is so easy, it is so comfortable that – especially for a disabled person – it is much easier to get there than to get to a day out in any of the cities of the central belt.”

Andrew Murdock of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association said the changes to travel requirements had a number of implications.

Charlotte Bennie

“Prior to 31 December guide dog and assistance dog owners would have been able to travel freely anywhere within the UK,” he said.

“Since the introduction of the regulations from the 1 January they are now having to go through a number of treatments in terms of a rabies vaccination and tapeworm treatments.”

He said they also had to secure an EU animal health certificate which resulted in “a little bit more of an imposition” in terms of freedom of movement.

Ms Bennie criticised the advice being offered by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on its website for ignoring people in her situation.

“It only mentions assistance dogs once and it is a casual off-hand remark,” she said.

“The rest of the time it is referring to pets, pets, pets.

“I just wonder, has Defra realised that assistance animals aren’t pets – they are essential to somebody’s safety and essential to somebody getting around independently?”


The retired teacher said it meant that any trip required much more planning than it used to and said the situation would be worse for other guide dog owners.

“It has taken away my independence to have a spontaneous day out,” she said.

“But imagine what it would be like if I was having to travel because of business or if I was a student to go through that for every single visit.”

A UK government statement said it was trying to tackle the situation.

Newton Stewart

“We are continuing to work closely with assistance dog organisations and their members to ensure they have the latest advice and guidance,” it said.

“We have ensured there are no changes to the current pet travel rules for entry into Great Britain from Northern Ireland, and are working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure a long-term solution which supports pet owners and assistance dog users entering Northern Ireland.

“We will continue to press the EU commission on awarding GB Part 1 listed status, recognising that achieving this would alleviate some of these new requirements.

“We are clear we meet all the requirements for this and have one of the most rigorous pet checking regimes in Europe to protect our biosecurity.”

It said full guidance on the latest situation was available on its website.

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