A recent article in the Toronto Star detailed an "underground railroad" that helped get stray dogs out of Afghanistan and into homes in North America and the UK.  While it’s a nice heartwarming Christmas story, the Scrooge side of me starts asking questions about whether this is a good thing. To me, there are two different scenarios here:

One is the military person who befriends a stray dog while on deployment and wants to bring it home with him/her. I get that. A bond has developed between the specific person and dog, and I completely understand the rationale.

The other scenario, which is the one that raises my concerns, is when this type of action expands to groups that start "rescuing" random Afghan dogs that are then shipped back to Canada for adoption. This is an ongoing issue which has come up with dogs coming from a variety of countries under various circumstances (e.g. Hurricane Katrina dogs). This is very different than the first scenario above. While it’s certainly great for most of the adopted dogs, I have a harder time justifying it. Here’s why:

Cost: Thousands of dollars are spent on each dog. Is that a wise investment?  Could these funds be used differently to help more animals?

Local shelters: It’s not like we need to encourage immigration of stray dogs because our shelters are lacking in dogs. I don’t know of any shelters that complain about a shortage of dogs for adoption. How can we justify spending thousands to import dogs when we already have an oversupply here? Does adoption of an imported dog (that cost thousands) result in euthanasia of an additional local dog, since there’s a finite owner population?

Disease: Thanks to Canada’s basically non-existent control over canine importation, this creates disease risks. If I wanted to do a study of Salmonella shedding by dogs in Afghanistan and have fecal samples from healthy dogs sent to me, I’d have to: A) Get an import permit from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA); B) Have a facility inspection performed to confirm that my lab fulfills containment level 2 practices; and C) Get an import permit from the Public Health Agency of Canada. To import the whole dog, poop and all, I just need to produce a rabies vaccination certificate. If the dog is less than 3 months of age, I don’t even need that. We’ve seen leishmaniasis in Ontario recently from dogs imported from Greece. There were major concerns about heartworm from "hurricane Katrina" dogs that were imported from Louisiana. A dog incubating rabies was imported by a US military person a few years ago. This is more than just a theoretical risk.

I’m not saying don’t do this, I’m saying let’s think about the costs and the benefits, and if it’s to continue, let’s make sure we have some logical and practical control measures in place.

Are the overall benefits worth the risks? Do people really want those dogs, or do they just want to say they own an Afghan rescue dog? What’s the infectious pathogen burden in imported dogs? What diseases occur in imported dogs? Who’s tracking these issues? (Answer: no one.) Should any regulations be put in place to reduce the risks?

Heartwarming story, but one that should at least raise some questions.