Jean-Claude Van Damme saves life of puppy in fake pet passport row

Raya, photo by its Norwegian owner. [Dnevnik]

Action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme has come to the rescue of a three-month-old chihuahua, saving her from euthanasia on Monday (19 October) after a legal tussle between Norway and Bulgaria.

The dog named Raya was sold to new owners in Norway in September but officials there would not register her because she had travelled on a fake Bulgarian passport.

Norway tried to repatriate the animal but Bulgaria refused to take her back because of European Union rules about transport of live animals, leaving the dog facing euthanasia — until the Belgian film legend got involved.

Van Damme launched an emotive campaign on social media, posting selfies of him hugging his chihuahua, which eventually persuaded the Bulgarian Food Safety Authority to accept the dog back.

“I beg, please, for my birthday, the Food Safety Authority, change your decision,” Van Damme wrote over the weekend, launching a petition to save the dog.

“They made a mistake, the people who didn’t do the paper correctly… But they cannot kill that little chihuahua.”

The food safety authority says Raya will have medical checks when she gets back to Bulgaria and will be put up for adoption.

Raya’s story was top news on all Bulgarian television channels on Monday and the decision that the puppy would be repatriated made headlines. Reportedly dozens of citizens asked to adopt the puppy.

The veterinarian who issued the passport appeared on TV saying that he had warned the puppy’s owners that it could not be used outside Bulgaria. He said the owners were of Roma origin.

Pets with a pedigree can be bought in Bulgaria at prices often ten times lower than in Western Europe.

Yavor Gechev from the Four Paws animal rights organisation told AFP on Monday that Bulgaria should be congratulated for showing flexibility but called for stricter control on illegal breeders and animal traffickers.

“The export of pets from eastern to western and northern Europe is a lucrative business,” he said.

The dog’s fake passport meant she would have been put down on 20 October under Norway’s legislation, said Gechev.

The misadventures of Raya resemble the story of Penka the cow, who also faced a death sentence after wandering over Bulgaria’s border with Serbia in May 2018.

Commission throws lifeline to Penka the cow

EU import rules do apply to Penka the cow, but she is now safely back in Bulgaria awaiting tests to see if she is healthy and able rejoin her fellow cows.

Anecdotal it may seem, Penka’s story gave foof for though in the Brexit context. Under EU rules, animals who cross the Union’s borders should be euthanised – which could have huge consequences in the case of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Penka was saved thanks to an international campaign in her defence joined by former Beatle Paul McCartney.

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