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Canadian rescues ‘prevented from rescuing as many dogs’ as US dog import ban comes into force

A temporary ban on US dog imports for 12 months came into effect on July 14, over rabies concerns. Here's how it affects Canada.

Photo: Courtesy of Fur Bae Rescue

Canadian dog charities who rescue overseas say the number of dogs they are able to save will drop dramatically following the knock-on effect of a controversial temporary US ban on dog imports.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US implemented the temporary ban on July 14 for a minimum of 12 months, which prevents the import of dogs from 113 countries due to rabies concerns from high-risk countries.

The ban also applies to dogs who have been in high-risk countries in the last 6 months, but are now in low-risk countries.

Dog ownership around the world has boomed during the pandemic, with 18% of current pet owners in Canada adopting a pet during Covid-19, according data from Narrative Research.

While the US has been rabies-free for dogs since 2007, the centre says that in 2020 they identified a “significant increase” compared to the past 2 years in the number of dogs being denied entry into the country from high-risk countries.

Dr. Emily Pieracci of the CDC told NPR that in 2020 the centre had intervened in more than 450 cases where dogs imported to the US had falsified or fraudulent rabies certificates.

According to the World Health Organisation, dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing to 99% of all cases. Once symptoms appear, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

However, Vancouver rescues say the ban will severely impact their ability to rescue dogs from overseas as nearly all the flights they transit rescues on either land at the US border or have layovers in the country before arriving in Canada.

How this ban impacts local shelters

Jan Olsen, founder of Vancouver-based Loved at Last Rescue, branded the ban “ridiculous” and “absurd”, adding that the pets they rescue from the Middle East are traditionally flown into Seattle and transported across the border to Vancouver by volunteers, which she said will now be “impossible.”

“We have never had, and I have never heard of, a dog arriving from an overseas country with rabies,” Jan said. “All dogs imported into the US must have a health exam from a vet and a rabies vaccination. This is not a requirement for local American dogs. So in reality it is safer for someone to adopt an overseas dog than a local one.”

She said her charity will have to change their operations, re-routing dogs through Montreal or Toronto directly to Vancouver, “reducing dramatically the number of dogs we can get to their new homes in Canada.”

“This ban will do nothing to protect the US from importing rabies and will cause a great amount of suffering by limiting the number of dogs we can save.”

However, the CDC strongly discourages US government employees from adopting overseas street dogs, claiming they “present the greatest risk of importing rabies”, and “adopting a street dog puts the health of you, your family and any other pets you own at risk.”

"People are going to see a lot less rescue dogs available."

Jenni Baynham, co-founder of Fur Bae - based in Kitsilano - said the shelters she works with in Qatar will be “decimated” by the “terrible” decision, as adoption fees from the US are central to the continuation of care for street dogs and dogs in their shelters.

Her charity - which has rescue teams based in Vancouver, Seattle, Montreal and Vancouver Island - have tried to get as many dogs over to Canada from Qatar before the US ban came into force on July 14, managing to save 50 dogs this past month, far more than the 10 or 15 dogs they usually rescue.

“The face of rescue in Canada will change because we’re only going to be able to help Canadian dogs. People are going to see a lot less rescue dogs available.

“Most rescues transit their dogs through the US, so some rescues will be able to get direct flights to Canada but they’ll be a lot less frequent. We’ll also see people buying more puppies as they don’t want to wait for a rescue, and that’s the biggest thing we fight against.

Photo: Hannah, available for adoption from Fur Bae Rescue, Vancouver

“People are really impatient for dogs so if their [rescue dog’s] flight isn’t for a month or 2 months then they’ll just go and buy a puppy because it’s faster for them, and this ban will just add to that now.”

Jenni said once news of the looming ban was announced on June 14th, with just a month until it came into effect, she and her team worked tirelessly to raise funds to get as many dogs over to BC as possible, with the team managing to raise $15,000 in less than 24 hours.

She said: “It meant we could get out dogs like Urban, one of the dogs in the shelter, who has been there for 9 years and we got him over. There are many other dogs like him and if we didn’t get them out now, this is kind of their last chance.”

She added: “I feel terrible for the shelters internationally. All of us rescuers here in Canada will continue to do what we do and help dogs, but just as I think humans all over the world need to be helped, dogs all over the world need to be helped and to draw borders on animals in need is not something I agree with if people are being responsible and doing their paperwork properly.”

Speaking to prospective dog owners, Jenni said: “These rules are going to make it harder timing-wise to get a rescue, it might not be as fast as you think. But please don’t run out and buy from a breeder.

“If rescuing is something you’re considering, please reach out to your local rescue and I’m sure they would really appreciate your patience. You’re bringing new life into your life and good things take time sometimes.”

How the ban will affect existing dog owners

The CDC said anyone wanting to import a dog from a high-risk country can now only do so with a CDC dog import permit which will be granted on a limited case-by-case basis. However this will not be extended to dogs that are intended for sale or adoption.

In a statement, the CDC said: “This temporary action is necessary to ensure the health and safety of dogs imported into the United States and to protect the public’s health against the reintroduction of canine rabies virus variant (dog rabies) into the United States.”

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), there are no plans to change the approach to rabies prevention in imported animals to Canada.

A spokeswoman for the CFIA told OhMyDog! that the country has a "long standing requirement" that dogs older than 3 months entering Canada need to have rabies vaccinations - unless they are from a country that the CFIA recognizes as rabies-free.

She added that on May 15 the CFIA implemented new measures for importing commercial dogs under eight months of age for breeding, show/exhibition (permanent stay), resale and adoption to improve compliance with humane transport and animal import requirements.

Under the new measures, a 28 day waiting period after rabies vaccination applies before a dog is eligible for export. Dogs have to be at least 16 weeks of age at the time of export to Canada.


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