UK Disability advocate Molly Watt blamed a lack of training and carelessness on the part of British Airways after the service animal she depends on was quarantined at customs.
British Airways passenger Molly Watt is remarkably independent for someone with a condition that has caused near-total blindness and severe hearing impairment. Watt says that this independence was seriously threatened recently when officials at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) seized and placed her service dog in quarantine for nearly two days, because of a paperwork snafu at customs.
“I literally just burst into tears,” Watt told her hometown newspaper, The Maidenhead Advertiser. “Taking my guide dog is like taking my eyes off me. I just said ‘no, you can’t be serious.’ We were just seen as criminals. It looked like we were trying to smuggle something illegally into the country.”
Watt, who suffers from Usher Syndrome, a rare condition that has left her nearly deaf and legally blind, says that her service dog, Isabella was taken away from her shortly after she returned home from a two-day trip to Germany. According to Watt, the Heathrow Animal Reception Center (HARC) insisted that the 20-month-old dog be taken away and placed in quarantine, because there was no documentation confirming that the animal had received a required heartworm medication while abroad.
While Watt blames British Airways for not informing her about the extra documentation she would need, she also faults HARC officials for putting her in a compromising position. “That is an incredibly long time for me to be without my guide dog,” Watt told the newspaper. “I am deaf as well, so I was feeling quite vulnerable.”
HARC officials insist that staff members’ hands were tied in this situation. “Animal health legislation for passengers traveling with service dogs is the same as for pet dogs,” a HARC spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
For its part, the airline says that it reached out to Watt prior to her flight to make certain she was aware of any and all restrictions when traveling internationally with her service animal. “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 spokesperson for British Airways offered.