HOURS after quake-ravaged Algeria was rocked by a strong aftershock, Lancashire dog handlers have called on quarantine restrictions to be changed so they can stay on red alert.

The Lancashire Canissearch and rescue team recently returned from a four-day rescue mission to search for survivors within a 20 mile radius of the earthquake epicentre in Algeria.

But the team dogs, who are invaluable to search and rescue team members, were caged until autumn after they touched down at Manchester airport.

Now the rescuers want Government restrictions changed and said: "Our team has been busted in half."

North West Air Ambulance Paramedic Paul West, 40, was assigned to the rescue mission as a member of the search and rescue dog team.

He said they were reduced to tears after being forced to abandon their canine companions to ensure they did not spread diseases like rabies into the UK.

The team is now putting pressure on the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs restrictions in these exceptional circumstances, backed by the Lancashire Division of the UK Fire Service Search and Rescue Team.

Paul, a former pupil of St Wilfrid's School, Blackburn, who lived in Nares Road, Witton, until two years ago, said: "It was very frustrating for the international contingent of rescue teams not being able to assist with such devastation for longer. We saw first hand the local people living by the side of roads in makeshift tents made from blankets, too scared to return to their homes.

"You can see the glimmer of hope in their faces as you try and find people alive."

The latest aftershock measured 5.8 on the Richter scale and was the strongest of several to hit the area since last Wednesday's quake. At least one house collapsed in the quake-hit town of Boumerdes.

The disaster is thought to have claimed 2,218 lives and injured more than 9,000 people. Concern is now growing among the rescue team over their depleted resources.

Paul, who is joined by dog handler Nigel Boden, 39 of Burnley in his plea, added: "To see grown men reduced to tears over leaving their dogs was tragic.

"It was just so sad to leave them in kennels for so long. It also means that we have now lost out most experienced dogs. We might not be able to change the Government's thinking but we have to put pressure on them to look at the way this is handled and hope that things will move on."

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans also called for the government to cut through red tape to allow the rescuers to stay on red alert. The dogs would not be able to attend any further crises abroad unless they were given the all clear from the welcoming country.

John Taylor, Fire Service press officer, said: "We know we can not take on the government head on but it is essential to put pressure on them.

"There could be a terrorist attack or a major disaster on our doorstep and we would be helpless. These dogs are irreplaceable and have to be free to respond to humanitarian problems of any kind."