Australian court: Infected dog from Singapore cannot stay

Judge throws out owner's appeal; pet must return to S'pore or be put down

An Australian appeal court has ordered that an infected dog from Singapore be either deported or put down by the owner.

The seven-year-old dalmatian, which was born in Queensland in 2007 and then taken to live here for some five years, was following its Singapore-based owner, who decided to move to Adelaide.

But Pepper was found to be infected with a condition called Canine Monocytic Ehrlichiosis (CME), which is caused by a parasitic organism that infects the blood cells of dogs.

On Monday, the federal court dismissed owner Tejinder Singh Sekhon's appeal to have the order for the dog's removal reviewed.

Justice Richard White wrote in his judgment: "Australia is free of CME. If it is introduced, it may have serious consequences. This is because of the ease with which the disease may be spread, the vector being the common brown dog tick, which is endemic in Australia."

As part of the import process, a test for CME was conducted on Pepper in Singapore in June last year, but came back negative.

It is understood the negative finding could mean the infection was recent and not detectable immediately.

Pepper was also released from the compulsory 30-day quarantine period at the Byford Quarantine Station, after the six-year-old dog arrived in Perth from Singapore in July last year.

But a blood sample taken three days before the end of the quarantine period and sent to a United States lab uncovered the dog's ailment. By then, Pepper was on the flight to its owner's family home in Adelaide.

Earlier this year, Mr Singh failed to get a magistrate to review the director of quarantine's export order against Pepper.

In his appeal, he argued that the director had no power to order Pepper's expulsion after it had been released last August, following the month-long quarantine in Australia.

Mr Singh also argued that the director did not place much weight on the recommendation by a veterinarian that Pepper could be treated.

But Justice White ruled the relevant law was not confined to a defined period, but applied throughout an animal's existence in Australia.

He described CME as a serious condition that is life-threatening for dogs. And while it can be treated to some extent by antibiotics and other chemicals, it is difficult to eliminate altogether, he noted.

He also made it clear that the feasibility of a treatment plan is not an issue which a quarantine officer is obliged to consider when using his powers to deport an animal, said the judge.

He found that the decision by the director to either export or euthanise Pepper was not a "slavish adoption" of the department's "policy position", but based on a detailed risk assessment by various officers.

He pointed out how alternate options such as keeping Pepper under quarantine surveillance in the family's home were considered by the department.

Unless Mr Singh takes the case further to the Federal Court of Appeal, the export order against Pepper, which has been stayed since last November, has to be carried out by Monday - seven days after the judgment.

When contacted yesterday, an Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore spokesman said: "Should the dog be deported to Singapore, we will work with our Australian counterpart to facilitate the process."

Toa Payoh Vets' Dr Sing Kong Yuen, when contacted yesterday, said the family could choose to have the dog returned here and be looked after by friends.

"Alternatively, they could seek the help of animal activist organisations there to keep the dog in Australia."

vijayan@sph.com.sg