A non-COVID post for a change.

Well, not completely, I guess. COVID is an example of what can happen when a new disease emerges and spreads. There are lots of new diseases lurking out there, mainly in wildlife. Some threaten humans. Some threaten animals. Some do both. Anytime we move ourselves into new environments or move animals from those environments into proximity with us, we create risk. The more we move ourselves and animals, the greater the risk.

We’re working on a few projects involving importation of dogs, in part because of the infectious diseases these animals bring with them. It’s pretty easy to import dogs into many countries (and especially into Canada). Most regulatory hurdles relate to movement of food animals and restricted wildlife, with limited consideration of issues related to dogs.

Importation rules for the US are pretty lax too, but some measures have been taken to tighten them up a bit in recent years. One was banning importation of dogs from Egypt because of rabies concerns (and issues with falsified vaccination certificates).

Now, there’s new proposed legislation in the US.  The “Healthy Dog Importation Act” (H.R. 6921) has been introduced to by Congressman (and veterinarian) Dr. Ralph Abraham. He states, “In light of the current health issues our country faces, it is important that we don’t import infectious diseases from animals that could have a devastating impact on food supply and our health as Americans. The Healthy Dog Importation Act is a common sense public health measure, and as a veterinarian, I’m proud to introduce this bill alongside Congressman Yoho and Congressman Schrader.

The proposed legislation doesn’t include anything too dramatic that I can see, but would turn some recommendations into requirements and add some logical restrictions:

  • All imported dogs must be permanently identified (e.g. microchip), healthy and vaccinated, with certification of vaccination by a licensed vet. It’s not clear what those requirements are as it states “all necessary vaccinations and demonstrated negative test results required by the Secretary” so presumably the actual vaccination requirements would be sorted out later and could vary.
  • Importation of dogs for “transfer” is restricted, i.e. dogs that are sold or otherwise transferred (adopted) after arrival. Dogs imported for resale/transfer must be at least 6 months of age and must be accompanied by a USDA import permit (which means no importation of puppies younger than this for resale/transfer). There is an exception made for Hawaii (not sure why…), where it would be legal to import puppies as long as they don’t leave the state for resale before 6 months of age. Hawaii’s other state importation rules would still apply.
  • There are also exceptions for research dogs and dogs that enter the US for veterinary care.  Dogs regularly cross between Canada and the US for veterinary care, particularly for specialty care when the closest referral hospital might be on the other side of the border.
  • Breaching these rules could result in quarantine, return or forfeiture of the dogs, and importers can be on the hook for any required healthcare costs.
  • The new act would also “streamline federal oversight, ensuring documentation and import permits are shared electronically between APHIS, CDC, and Customs and Border Patrol, while clarifying APHIS’ key enforcement authority.” If this results in better data about canine importation, that would be great, since the lack of reliable information hampers risk assessments and the ability to follow up on disease introductions.

The legislation outlines the framework, and the details would come later.  I have no idea what the odds are of it being passed before this session ends, but it’s good to see this on the US legislative agenda.