Consider the source when choosing your next best friend
By: Patti Strand Date: 11/30/2011 Category: | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |
One of the great animal welfare success stories of the last half century is the end of dog overpopulation and wholesale euthanasia in many parts of the United States. After decades of effort, Americans embraced the message of responsible dog ownership in the 1970’s and began spaying and neutering their pets, fencing their yards, and keeping their dogs on leash.
In less than two generations, these practices have produced astounding results: we are caring for more than twice as many dogs today as in the 1970’s, yet the number of dogs entering shelters in most parts of the country is just a fraction of what it was 40 years ago.
That’s good news, but progress always carries with it the potential for unintended consequences, and this story is no different. In this case, efforts at reducing dog overpopulation have been so successful in some parts of the country there are no longer enough dogs to meet local demand.
This has left a vacuum in high demand areas that is rapidly being filled by shady pet dealers operating outside the regulated pet market, and retail rescue and shelter operations. Both groups are moving dogs from distant states and foreign countries, creating a largely unregulated industry that perpetuates the existence of deplorable kennels – ones that regulated breeders and traditional shelters have worked for decades to eliminate – while raising serious public health concerns at the receiving end.
Fueled by wider access to transportation, instant communication options, and lax or unenforced laws, the movement of dogs is faster and easier than ever. Hundreds of organizations - legitimate and illegal - move dogs from southern parts of the US into the Northeast and other “high demand” areas each year. Last year in Colorado, shelters imported over 12,000 dogs from out of state, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 200,000 dogs were smuggled into the United States from Mexico in 2006 alone.
Common sense dictates that taking in thousands of dogs from distant states or foreign countries – often without vaccinations or health certificates – is asking for trouble. An infected dog can introduce foreign diseases and parasites, endangering local pets, livestock, and even humans. It should be no surprise that cases of heartworm and canine brucellosis are rising in the northern United States, or that most of the recent cases of canine-strain rabies in the United States have surfaced in dogs rescued from foreign countries.
There are social and ethical issues to consider as well. The unregulated movement of these dogs and puppies obscure their origins, many arising as “cast offs” from illegal, underground breeders, perpetuating their cruel and illegal operations. Others come from foreign countries where health and welfare standards are nonexistent or much lower than in the US.
Sadly, importation by rescue and shelter groups – though often well-intentioned – displaces local homeless dogs without attacking the root of the problem. When an adorable puppy or small breed dog from a distant state or country is adopted instead of a local, three year-old lab or pit mix, it simply trades one dog’s life for another.
Such an act does nothing to change the practices, policies or culture of the imported dog’s breeder, home state or country. Instead, it enables irresponsible behavior, and provides some of the worst kennels imaginable with an “overstock outlet” for the puppies they produce: essentially, it keeps them in business. Adding insult to injury, some importing shelters refuse admittance to local dogs in favor of more “adoptable” ones from outside their area.
Using regions that have solved their dog overpopulation problems as repositories for dogs from states and countries with ongoing problems is not a solution; it merely converts importing rescue groups and animal shelters into unregulated pet stores.
This is ironic, considering that not that long ago the stated goal of most humane societies was to put themselves out of business by solving the dog overpopulation crisis. Today’s practices create a perpetual pet supply chain that moves the root of the problem out of sight without solving anything.
The times are indeed changing. In today’s new and unregulated global marketplace, navigating the seas of pet acquisition has become more confusing and treacherous than ever. Buyers and adopters need to beware.
Before obtaining a family dog, prospective dog owners need to do their homework and add one more criteria to their list of questions before bringing a new dog into their family. Simply stated, in today’s global, high tech market place, future dog owners need to uncover and then carefully consider the source of their next dog.
A modified version of this article appeared in the Charleston Gazette.
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