Countless people have asked me to comment about the movement of Hurricane Harvey dogs from Texas into Ontario (and other regions). Okay… I’ll bite.

As frequent readers know, risks posed by importation of animals is an interest of mine. A large reason for this is the infectious disease problems that occur, including things I’ve seen here in Ontario (e.g. widespread distemper in rescue dogs from China, heartworm in dogs from the southern US) and broader issues (e.g. importation of H3N2 canine influenza into the US from Asian rescue dogs, importation of rabid dogs). Anytime animals are moved from one region to another, there’s a chance that infectious diseases go with them. The farther apart, both geographically and in terms of the infectious agents that are present in the area, the greater the risk. That doesn’t mean movement is always bad, but it means we need to think about the when, why and how of the process.

I have no doubt about the sincerity and good intentions of most groups that are involved in shipping dogs out of Texas. They see a problem that they want to help address. But do they adequately understand all the issues?  That’s an important question.  Infectious diseases are a big concern because we know they get imported with dogs in situations like this.

Another thing to consider is the potential disruption caused by having even more volunteers in a disaster zone. I’ve talked to emergency responders and disaster relief coordinators in the past, and often the well-intentioned people who come to help end up causing more problems, simply because they add more people to an already chaotic situation and they take up more resources (e.g. food, housing, fuel).

While it shouldn’t always come down to money, the cost benefit needs to be considered. A local rescue agency announced they had raised another ~$30,000 and wanted to go back and get more dogs. The shelter system in Canada isn’t exactly flush with cash (or depleted of animals). How much good could that money do at home, and how many more animals could benefit? As one writer to me stated, the US is the wealthiest country in the world. Do they really need Canadians driving down to help them with a few dozen dogs?

It’s great for the dogs that are adopted, no question. There tend to be massive waiting lists to adopt dogs from high profile rescues like this (with less interest in the “boring” local dogs).

Is it great, in the big picture?

  • Does importation of dogs result in more dogs going into homes, or does every imported dog that finds a home mean that one local dog in a shelter is euthanized because there’s no one to take it? (Or even that more than one dog is euthanized because there aren’t enough funds to care for them?)

At a minimum, there needs to be more attention to how these dogs are obtained, how they are screened prior to importation, and how they are managed after they get here. Unfortunately, odds are good that problems will be imported along with the dogs.