Not in My Backyard
It is time – and with your help it is finally possible – to stop the flood of unhealthy dogs pouring into the U.S. each year. Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Ralph Abraham, veterinarian and medical doctor of Louisiana, and the co-sponsorship of the two other veterinarians in Congress, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Ted Yoho of Florida, comprehensive, bipartisan legislation – HR 6921 – was introduced on May 18, 2020.
The U.S. dog-import system is broken. Its demise is an unintended consequence of solving the dog overpopulation problem in most regions of the country. The vast majority of U.S. dogs are neutered, and fewer dogs are born in the US each year. At the same time, demand for dogs has increased, outstripping supply and leading to the import of dogs from all over the world.
Rescue groups began state-to-state relocation programs, moving dogs from areas with surpluses to areas with shortages, about two decades ago. What started as a trickle became a flood, and 20 years later, a 2019 CDC report estimates that more than one million dogs are imported into the U.S. from foreign countries annually. This number is staggering when you consider that many of these dogs come from high-risk countries lacking the veterinary care, public health and sanitation standards found in the U.S. and have infectious pathogens that are not native to the U.S. This number represents at least one-eighth of the total US dog marketplace and amplifies the scope of the threat.
In this unregulated environment, the international dog trade has become an absolute nightmare, threatening animal and public health. The diseases and parasites routinely found in dogs imported from developing countries include highly infectious pathogens that can often be transmitted to people as well as dogs and other animals – rabies, canine brucellosis, leishmaniasis, leptospirosis, canine flu, new strains of distemper and countless vector-borne diseases.
U.S. import laws are among the weakest in the developed world.
And there is a reason for this: No one agency, not USDA, not CDC, not US Customs and Border Protection or Homeland Security or Commerce has ever been given the legislative authority, let alone the budget to take on oversight and enforcement of the dog import issue. And that’s because no one ever imagined that a time would come when a shortage of dogs would exist in the U.S., or that groups would begin importing street dogs from countries with such a widespread incidence of rabies that the U.S. State Department would issue travel advisories warning tourists to get vaccinated for rabies before visiting.
Finally, after years of working on the issue and watching with frustration as more dogs with infectious diseases pour into the U.S. every year, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: a bill designed to address these problems and provide government authority:
The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020 (HR 6921) would require that every dog entering the country be in good health, permanently identified, certified by an approved veterinarian in the country of origin, and carry records showing that it has received all the proper vaccinations.
Those dogs entering the country for resale, transfer, or donation must be at least six months of age and accompanied by a USDA import permit. (Buying a dog for your own use is not affected by this requirement.)
The bill would also streamline and coordinate federal oversight, ensuring documentation and import permits are shared electronically between APHIS, CDC, and Customs and Border Patrol, while clarifying APHIS' key enforcement authority.
As badly as this legislation is needed, and as thankful as we are that it has been introduced, without your active support, this important bill is just a well-crafted proposal. Congress is moving very few bills forward right now due to COVID19, so we feel truly fortunate that our bill was taken up. But it is up to us now, the organized dog world, to contact our individual Congress members and make sure they understand how important this bill is to each of us.
Thanks to Our Friends and Supporters
This legislation has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the progress that has been made so far. At this time, I especially want to recognize Julian Prager’s huge contributions to this legislative product. His legislative experience, dedication and unique understanding of animal law has been irreplaceable.
I also want to recognize and thank the AKC for their very helpful partnership with us as we all work to move this bill forward.