The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has reported the identification of a rabid dog imported into Ontario from Iran. The dog was imported on July 1, 2021 and started showing signs of rabies on July 11. It was euthanized the next day and subsequently diagnosed with rabies caused by a canine rabies virus variant known to circulate in Iran.
- Canine variants of the rabies virus are not present in Canada. We still have other rabies variants in wildlife (e.g. bat, skunk, raccoon, and Arctic fox variants) but canine rabies variants, the ones that causes most of the human deaths internationally, are only a risk from imported animals. But make no mistake, all rabies virus variants are deadly and can infect any mammal.
An investigation of the case ensued and identified 24 people who potentially had contact with the rabid dog, of which 14 received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) based on the risk of significant exposure to the dog’s saliva. Fortunately, there was no reported contact with other dogs or any other animals.
- It’s critical that this was diagnosed and investigated expediently. It’s hard to say what the risk was to those 14 people who received PEP, but with an almost invariably fatal disease, we don’t want to leave much margin of error.
- Overall, this incident would have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars (more likely tens of thousands of dollars). PEP is very expensive, and the personnel time required to diagnose and investigate a case like this are substantial.
This is consistent with our ongoing concerns about poor importation practices. Our colleagues in the US may be saying “I told you so!”, as Iran is one of many countries from which importation of dogs is no longer allowed because of rabies risk. (Although prior to the current US ban, they experienced a very similar incident in June 2021 with a rabid dog that was imported into the US from Azerbaijan).
Co-incidentally (or not, I suspect), there was also a recent news report about a group of 5 puppies from Iran being refused entry into Canada in late July. It’s a bit unclear what was wrong, but it seems like there were a few issues with the importation and that it didn’t comply with the recent changes in Canadian importation rules for commercial dogs less than 8 months of age. These puppies arrived in Montreal and were denied entry. After a short layover, they were put on a flight back to their country of origin.
This has always been a concern with increased enforcement of importation rules. Rejecting a non-compliant shipment at the border is a standard approach, but it’s much more complicated when dealing with live animals. However, there’s a reason shipments get rejected and we can’t allow people to get away with ignoring rules. I’ve always said we need a plan to properly assess, quarantine and (when possible) re-home these dogs in cases like this, with substantial fines to the importers both to dissuade them from doing it again, and to cover the costs associated with dealing with the dogs once they’re in Canada. That could help strike a balance between protection from imported diseases and imported dog welfare.
A statement by the importer of the puppies that were turned back in Montreal raises another concern that we’ve had about the business side of “dog rescues.” They said, “So, we can’t ask these people to pay $2,500 to import their puppies from Iran so we’ll have to pay that and that’ll affect our financial situation so badly that we might have to stop rescuing dogs for a while.”
If there’s a profit margin built in (which I assume has to be the case), this moves beyond being a “rescue” and clearly into the commercial dog realm, which is certainly not uncommon. Some rescues are shoestring operations that get by on donations and cost-recovery via adoption fees. They do it just to get dogs into homes. Others profit quite nicely from the business of “rescuing.”