NATIONAL REPORT — At last count, in 2006, 287,000 dogs crossed the United States' borders, and veterinary officials fear the problem is getting
Consumer demand for pure-bred and cross-bred puppies coupled with strict new domestic breeding laws is believed to be driving
importation numbers even higher than four years ago. To exacerbate the problem, federal regulators have no real way of tracking
exactly how many dogs are brought in the country, where they come from, where they are going and whether importers are following
up on vaccination requirements for underage puppies.
"One thing that really concerns veterinarians is, underage puppies come in and not only are they at greater risk of zoonotic
diseases, but also other canine diseases," says Nina Marano, DVM, of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC)
Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. "It is a concern. It's a consumer issue; it's a public health issue; it's a veterinary
issue. Really, it's a moral and ethical issue."
CDC has a rough idea of how many puppies are crossing United States borders, but only anecdotally, Marano says.
"The fact is that we have a very big country and many, many ports of entry to monitor," she explains. "We've been looking
at this closely over the last five to six years and ... the takeaway message is that, anecdotally, we do believe there has
been an increase in imported animals."
No definitive data is available on the number of dogs and puppies imported to the United States each year since no single
agency is required to keep track of those numbers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors only commercial
breeders who sell animals through pet stores, brokers and research facilities. The CDC monitors rabies vaccinations in imported
pets, but its regulations neither require a health screen for dogs prior to arrival to the United States, nor an evaluation
for specific zoonoses of concern. Enforcement of regulations are "problematic, because there is no federal requirement mechanism,
or capacity for documenting compliance," according to a 2008 article in the journal Zoonosis and Public Health by Marano and fellow CDC veterinarian G. Gale Galland, DVM.
Plus, CDC can't man all the nation's ports of entry, leaving Customs and Border Protection, whose officers have no veterinary
training, as the first line of defense to ensure all imported animals meet federal agency requirements.
CDC has taken "snapshots" of data to gauge dog import trends and found that 287,000 dogs were imported in 2006. About a quarter
of them were too young to have rabies vaccinations. Their importers were required to sign agreements stating the dogs would
be confined until the vaccine was administered, but enforcement is passed on to local animal-control agencies once the dogs
are in the country. And critics contend most imported dogs are sold as soon as the dogs are brought home from the airport,
not after the agreement is fulfilled.
More than 5,100 confine agreements were signed between January 2006 and September 2007 at just 15 of the 20 quarantine stations
monitored by the CDC, but about 4,000 of those agreements were violated in 2006 alone, with the puppies being sold before
the confinement period ended. There's no telling if any had been vaccinated at all.
"Based on import trends suggesting that the annual number of unvaccinated puppies being imported into the United States increased
substantially from 2001 to 2006, imported dogs pose a risk for introducing zoonotic pathogens such as rabies into the United
States," Galland and Marano wrote.
At John F. Kennedy International Airport, reports of unvaccinated dog imports doubled from 2003 to 2006. Reports of unvaccinated
dogs imported into California increased by more than 500 percent from 2001 to 2006, the article adds.
But dogs aren't the only imports on the rise. According to another article co-authored by Galland that appeared in a May 2009
edition of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, the volume of live animal imports to the United States has roughly doubled since 1991.
"From 2003 through 2006, annual increases in wildlife trade ranged from 6 percent to 11 percent. From 2000 through 2004, approximately
588,000 animals were imported into the United States each day," the article states, adding those are just the animals that
border agents find. "Interpol estimates that wildlife smuggling ranks third on the contraband list of items of value, behind
drugs and firearms."
Some blame falls on federal regulators, who lack the time and resources to follow up on every animal import.
"In 2000, most imported dogs were single import," Galland wrote in the 2009 article. "In 2003, the number of imports of multiple
puppies per shipment began to increase. The number of puppies imported into California through airports increased from 110
multi-dog imports in 2003 to 365 in 2004. Each shipment contained as many as 40 puppies. A similar increase was seen nationally
... As the number of shipments containing more than one dog increased, tracking puppies became increasingly difficult."
But the problem also can be attributed to market demand, uneducated consumers and puppy millers turned irresponsible importers.