Government officials are talking to vets and quarantine facilities to work out how to let Ukrainians bring their pets to UK, The Independent has been told.
Countless dog and cat owners have carried their animals with them as they left behind their homes and belongings to make their way to safety abroad.
Lobbyists in the UK have written to animal-welfare minister Zac Goldsmith and environment secretary George Eustice, urging them to relax entry restrictions on pets belonging to Ukrainians fleeing war.
Under government rules, to enter the UK, animals must be microchipped, have a pet passport or health certificate and have had a rabies vaccination.
But animal protection groups say it’s unreasonable to expect desperate people fleeing war, whose homes may have been destroyed, to meet the criteria.
They say to force people wanting to come to the UK to abandon their beloved pets – “family members” – would inflict further trauma on Ukrainians.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) UK told Mr Eustice in a letter: “A rabies antibody test by blood analysis, which would be necessary to have these animals cross the borders in line with all legal regulations, can take days or even weeks.
“Many vulnerable animals are therefore being left behind without their guardians or other caring people, which will lead to terrifying and prolonged deaths.”
It added that pets “must be offered refuge, too, and are vital in giving comfort to fleeing, traumatised people in these horrible times.
“The people of the UK would be devastated if forced to abandon their beloved animal family members, and we must ensure Ukrainians do not have to make this devastating choice either.”
Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia have all cut bureaucracy for allowing animals into their countries.
Another campaigner, Dominic Dyer, wrote to Lord Goldsmith: “This terrible conflict is ripping so many families apart, yet we are seeing an incredibly strong bond between people and companion animals that will not be broken by the evil brutality of Putin’s invasion forces…
“If UK policy remains that no companion animals can enter the UK with refugees, we could see tens of thousands of dogs and cats having to be euthanised in Poland, Hungary and Romania in the weeks ahead.
“Each of these animal deaths would bring further misery to the women and children who have escaped war and would make Britain’s immigration policy look extremely cruel in comparison to other EU member states.”
A York-based veterinary company has started looking at how to set up a UK emergency protocol for microchipping, vaccinating against rabies and dealing with ticks and tapeworm.
Charities at the borders could create reception centres to do pet health checks and prepare animals to enter the UK under an emergency refugee pet passport scheme, Mr Dyer suggested.
“I am confident we can get industry funding for this programme, which will also have huge public support,” he added.
“I am sure we can come up with a system that protects public and animal health, but makes allowances for the desperate need to keep women children and their precious companion animals together.”
He said: “Most refugees were women who had left behind their husbands, as well as children and the elderly.
“They’ve suffered already enough – to lose the animals would make this even more devastating,” he said.
A government spokesperson told The Independent it was looking at how to support Ukrainians coming to the UK with their pets.
Rules are in place to prevent rabies entering the country, which has always been rabies-free.
But the spokesperson said: “We recognise the difficult and distressing situation that Ukrainian nationals currently face, and the UK government is working at pace to support them.
“We have strong biosecurity measures in place to protect the public and other animals from diseases which can be brought to the UK by animals from overseas.
“However, the government is looking at options to provide support to Ukrainian nationals who are entering the UK with their pets.”
It’s understood officials are working with vets and quarantine facilities while looking at how to support Ukrainian pet owners coming to the country.