Major Advances in Regulating Animal Relocation and Importation into US Shelters

Major Advances in Regulating Animal Relocation and Importation into US Shelters

By: Staff  Date: 09/8/2005 Category: | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |


The practice known as humane relocation started innocently enough. Animal shelters in areas where shelter populations have plummeted as the national shelter census steadily declines started to take animals from shelters that had more animals than they could quickly place. A practice that was regional became national in scope with truckloads of shelter strays from the South heading to the Northeast to stock otherwise empty shelters. But the practice went quickly out of control. In the last 6 or 7 years many shelters and even small rescue groups have begun importing high numbers of stray and feral animals from places outside the mainland US where veterinary health care and disease control lag behind US standards. Depending upon their point of origin, diseases prevalent there, and the veterinary care and oversight provided, these imported animals pose significant health risks to US pets, livestock and people.

NAIA has worked diligently to bring these practices to the attention of the public for the last six years. NAIA articles have documented these threats (one was reported on the front page of USA Today) (2). NAIA contacted health professionals and officials in scores of federal and state agencies and associations, and now, finally, regulations have been drafted and are on their way to being implemented to regulate the shelter industry.

In 2004 it became apparent that the humane relocation disease time bomb was going off. In July of 2004, a rabid puppy from the Save-A-Sato Puerto Rico stray operation was imported into the Massachusetts shelter system (3). This rabid puppy had a strain of canine rabies endemic to Puerto Rico and found in the mongoose. The CDC tightened its rabies vaccination regulations (4) because the introduction of a new strain of rabies to the region would pose significant health risks to local domesticated animal populations as well as to people. Then in November, 2004, a dog from Mexico became the first case of canine rabies in Los Angeles in 30 years (5) once again focusing attention on the public health threat posed by dog importation.

Documented cases of rabies in dogs imported during 2004, led to changes in the 2005 revision of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, (6) which specifically calls for the discontinuation of importing dogs for sale or adoption from places with dog to dog rabies. Importantly, the Compendium states that federal regulations alone are insufficient to prevent the introduction of rabid animals into the US and thereby invites states to do their part.

In recognizing the Compendium’s guidance, the Massachusetts Bureau of Animal Health held a special meeting on May 12, 2005 with importing shelters and rescue groups to explain emergency requirements. Basically, rescues, shelters and other animal groups will be held to standards and regulation similar to those for Massachusetts pet shops. The state’s definition of a pet shop is “ a place or premises where birds, mammals, or reptiles are kept for the purpose of either wholesale or retail sale, import, export, barter, exchange, or gift." The Department will establish permanent regulations to replace the emergency order.

The Department seeks three basic areas of compliance:

Record keeping: Every rescue group and shelter will be required to keep detailed records on the dog’s place of origin; where it was housed prior to arriving in MA, and ultimately on it’s final disposition. Rescue groups must also keep detailed medical records on each dog. Currently, pet shops must allow their records and facilities to be open for inspection by the Department, the M.S.P.C.A. and/or the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

Isolation: Every dog coming into MA for sale/adoption must be isolated for 72 hours in a Department approved facility. The Department has indicated their inspectors must physically visit and approve each facility. It doesn't matter whether the dog is from another state or another country, it must be isolated before going into the home of an adopter or fosterer.

Veterinary examination: Every dog must be given a health exam and a health certificate by a Massachusetts veterinarian at the end of the 72 hour isolation period. In addition, the rescue dog will need to have a current health certificate issued at the point of origin in order to be transported into the Massachusetts rescue/shelter system.

Clearly states are beginning to address the issues raised in the Rabies Compendium by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians regarding the importation of dogs for resale or adoption. By calling for the discontinuance of this practice where dog-to-dog rabies exists, and by telling states that federal regulations are not sufficient, the NASPHV has given needed guidance to state agencies and lawmakers. It is time to act.

Leading the way, Massachusetts Representative Kay Kahn has introduced House Bill 3650 (7) aimed at reducing the public health threats posed by unregulated importation. Her bill is a good model for other states to follow in complying with the Compendium’s recommendations.

NAIA thanks all the agencies and lawmakers we have worked with to achieve these new regulations. In addition, we’d like to thank Charlotte McGowan, the NAIA Trust representative in Massachusetts for her ongoing research and legislative activism on this issue.

(1) Redefining Pet Overpopulation

(2) Humane or Insane

(3) Stray pet relocation brings rabies to Massachusetts

(4) CDC tightens rabies vaccination rules for imported dogs

(5) Thriving animal shelter businesses assure more rabies in American pets

(6) The National Association of State Public Health Veterinary, Rabies Compendium

(7) State bill to require shelters and rescue groups to keep and report records on shelter animal imports

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All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |
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