States crack down on puppy mills

States crack down on puppy mills

At last count, 287,000 dogs crossed U.S. borders, and officials fear importation problems are getting worse
Mar 01, 2010

NATIONAL REPORT — At last count, in 2006, 287,000 dogs crossed the United States' borders, and veterinary officials fear the problem is getting worse.

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.