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

"It's getting tougher to raise dogs in the United States. The USDA is requiring more of commercial breeders," Marano says, adding many former puppy millers are believed to have turned to importing to increase profits.

In Pennsylvania — a state known for its concentration of puppy mills — 256 kennels were closed in 2009 compared to just 65 kennels closed in 2004.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) tracks anti-puppy mill legislation and saw a huge jump after 2008, with 90 bills introduced across 33 states — five of them adopted in 2009. "There's a campaign, clearly well-organized, to bring these bills forward," says Adrian Hochstedt, AVMA's assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs.

Additionally, foreign countries make it easier to breed dogs because of loose animal-health standards, contends California attorney John Hoffman, who has crusaded against puppy importers on behalf of various breed groups.

For instance, one French Bulldog group he provided services for claims there are now more French Bulldogs imported into the United States than are bred here, because artificial insemination and cesarean deliveries can be performed cheaper by unlicensed veterinary workers in other countries.

"The sale over the Internet of both commercially bred puppies and imported puppies has become a big business — and probably considerably outstrips sales of puppies through pet shops," Hoffman said during testimony before Congress in 2006 on an importation law that never passed. "USDA regulations prohibit carriers from accepting animals for transport without a health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian and from transporting puppies younger than 8 weeks. It appears that both regulations are routinely flouted by commercial puppy exporters abroad. That health certificates are being forged is evidenced by the large incidence of illness and death among puppies within a day or two of arrival in the United States."

Many of these imported dogs are irresponsibly bred with a host of genetic problems and are shipped young — too young to vaccinate — to meet market demand. Importers often lie about age and health issues on a dog's records and get away with it, Hoffman claims.

Confinement agreements
"If the form said 8 weeks, nobody questioned it," Hoffman says, adding that rabies requirements are treated with disdain by some importers. "There's been no enforcement of (confinement agreements) and the importers have been thumbing their noses at it for years."

But importers for profit aren't the only violators. One rescue organization alone imported 295 dogs from the Middle East in 2006, according to Galland and Marano's article, and even veterinarians can be pulled into a laissez-faire attitude about pet importation.

Galland's 2009 article reveals a 2007 case of a puppy imported from India by a Washington state veterinarian. The dog was given to another veterinarian, bit veterinary clinic staff and another dog while showing signs of rabies, but wasn't diagnosed with the disease until another veterinarian brought it to Alaska. Eight people had to be treated for rabies.

Several rabies cases in imported dogs have been tracked in recent years, as well as cases of other diseases long-eradicated in the United States, like screwworm. Screwworms are monitored by the USDA and could cause up to $750 million in livestock production losses, the article notes. New World screwworms were eradicated from the United States in 1966, and Old World screwworm had never been seen in this country until it was found in a puppy imported from Singapore to Massachusetts in 2007.

"Veterinarians should be vigilant when examining new puppies" Galland wrote. "Many imported dogs are never confined properly or inspected for infectious diseases, and many diseases may not be detected readily in imported dogs ... a veterinarian could be the one who prevents the next outbreak."

A lot of imported puppies arrive at U.S. ports dehydrated, but not really ill. It's a few days after entering the country that they become symptomatic.

"Rabies is of particular concern in imported dogs because of its long incubation period," wrote Galland and Marano. "Because of this, dogs may be admitted on the basis of apparent good health, but may be incubating the virus and could develop disease after entry."

An importation clause in the recently passed Farm Bill could provide some relief, as it prohibits the commercial importation of any dog younger than 6 months of age, Marano says. But USDA must write the regulations to put the Farm Bill into effect, and that has not even been started, Hoffman says.

"Buyers and veterinarians report that imported puppies suffer from higher than normal incidences of pneumonia, parvovirus, rabies, ringworm and severe congenital defects," wrote Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who supported passage of the Farm Bill, in a press release about the legislation. "The CDC lacks the staff, law enforcement powers and resources to ensure each shipment is safe."

CDC is reviewing its regulations — written in 1956 and last updated in 1983, when international travel was less frequent and dog imports consisted of the occasional family pet — and has found that the general public would like to see more stringent laws. But changes take time, Marano says.

"There are only two ways to attack: regulations to dry up supply and education to dry up demand," she explains.

"Veterinarians are really one of the first lines of defense, and they need to be educated on the regulations of their state so they can educate their clients about the risk involved in buying these puppies," adds Galland.