Movement and sales of dogs through “rescue channels” continues to explode. While more and more cities and states are restricting sales of dogs in pet stores to those obtained from animal shelters and rescue groups, the actual source of these dogs remains obscure. Yet, there is mounting evidence that movement through “rescue channels” includes individuals or organizations involved merely for the profit, hence the name “Retail Rescue.” The dogs may be coming from the very same unscrupulous dog breeders these laws are intended to put out of business.
Not many states track the importation of dogs for adoption into their states, but those that do, shed some light on the enormity of this issue.
- 7,450 rescue dogs were imported into New Hampshire
- 15,000 dogs were imported into Connecticut through “rescue channels”
- 90,000 dogs were received in Colorado
- 130,000 dogs were received in Virginia
The numbers from New Hampshire and Connecticut represent dogs imported through rescue channels.
In Colorado, of the 90,000 dogs received, 12,600 were received from outside Colorado, representing dogs entering the state through “rescue channels.” The remainder includes 24,000 dogs returned to shelters, 8,600 transferred between shelters in Colorado, and other movement in and out of the state.
In Virginia, 16,800 of the 130,000 dogs received appear to be rescues, but movement of dogs within and out of the state are not well monitored.
Why are all these dogs moving through these rescue channels?
People continue to want to buy dogs, particularly puppies, but have been convinced that pet stores sell dogs that receive substandard care from commercial breeders collectively called “puppy mills.” Thinking they are saving these dogs, the public is increasingly backing laws banning sales of pure-bred commercially sourced dogs, and permitting only sales from animal shelters and rescue groups.
Notably, the overpopulation of dogs in many parts of the U.S., particularly the north east, has been curtailed by effective spay-neuter programs in these states. Therefore, to provide puppies and dogs to the public, seeking to purchase pets through rescue channels, these animals have to be imported from other states and countries.
Some commercial breeders deserve the name “puppy mills” and should be closed down. Others do not. Many rescue groups are trying to do the right thing. Others are only in it for the money, often buying dogs from the very same puppy mills.
Profits in “Retail Rescue,” particularly involving dogs, are likely to increase exponentially. More than 35 cities and at least 2 states, Connecticut and Illinois, have adopted or have considered banning the sale of dogs obtained through commercial breeders, and limiting sales to those sourced through rescues or shelters.
There are several animal health and consumer-related problems associated with the unregulated movement of dogs through Retail Rescue channels:
- The source of the rescue dogs may be from the same “puppy mills” owners are trying to avoid, or from other breeders providing substandard care for the dogs;
- Dog breeding through these channels will not only continue at current levels, but is likely to increase, if the market favors sales of rescue dogs;
- Federal regulations over commercial breeders may not apply to these breeders;
- “Puppy lemon laws” which many states use to protect consumers sold dogs with infectious and/or inherited diseases and disorders do not apply to rescue/shelter dogs, so consumers are without recourse when treating their newly purchased dogs, often purchased sight unseen and with no medical history;
- Dogs imported from other states and/or countries may be infected with transmissible diseases or parasites that endanger their health and the health of other animals they come in contact with;
- Punishing retail pet stores for unscrupulous dog breeders unreasonably harms these businesses, and will not eliminate the problem at its source;
- Pet owners who prefer to purchase a pure-bred dog, for their known physical and behavioural characteristics, will have increasingly limited options.
Some states, in addition to tracking the movement of dogs into, within, and out of their states for adoption, have taken action to help ensure animals are healthy and owners do not unknowingly purchase sick, infected dogs.
- Connecticut has initiated a crackdown on “adoptions” taking place at parking lots throughout the state;
- New Hampshire requires any dog, cat, or ferret entering the state for sale or adoption, to be held for at least 48 hours at a state licensed animal health facility or veterinary practice, separated from other animals before the sale, where at least some illnesses can be diagnosed and treated.
Out of increasing concern about the spread of rabies from infected dogs imported from rabies-endemic countries, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (“NASPHV”) recently recommended that the CDC revise and expand its current animal importation regulations “to reduce the risk of introduction of zoonotic diseases, particularly rabies, into the U.S.”
According to NASPHV, over 287,000 dogs were imported into the US in 2006, many with falsified or inadequate animal health documentation. At least 25% of those dogs were too young to be vaccinated for rabies. To protect animal and human heath NASPHV recommends, in part:
- Dogs, cats, and ferrets should be at least 6 months of age prior to importation into the U.S.;
- Proof of rabies vaccination should accompany imported dogs, cats, and ferrets;
- Permanent identification of these animals should be required and a national electronic database established to track their movement;
- The imported dogs, cats, and ferrets should be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days.
These measures would help prevent the exposure of U.S. pets and humans to rabies or other zoonotic diseases.
Some of these controls, even if modified, should be considered for dogs moving through rescue channels to help ensure their proper care, and prevent the spread of disease. A closer look at the source and movement of dogs through “rescue channels” must be part of the overall initiative to protect the health and well being of dogs sold in the U.S.
 Data obtained from NAIA Shelter Project