A new bill, the Healthy Dog Importation Act, has been proposed in the US Congress to deal with a few important issues related to dog importation. 

The proposed act would require any dog being imported to:

  • Be in good health 
  • Have a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian “accredited by a competent veterinary authority recognized by the Secretary
  • Have received “all necessary vaccinations, internal and external parasite treatment and demonstrated negative test results, as required by the Secretary
  • Officially identified by a permanent method “approved by the Secretary

Those are all basic and logical measures to help reduce importation of sick dogs or otherwise high-risk dogs. They wouldn’t eliminate all infectious disease risks, since dogs can carry some infectious agents without showing any signs of disease, but this seems like a practical approach.

The proposed act would also put additional conditions on importing dogs for ‘”transfer” (e.g. sale, adoption, donation, exchange). Essentially, if the person importing the dog doesn’t keep it, it’s a dog for transfer, whether the dog is sold, or a rescue, or anything in between. Dogs for transfer would need to fulfill all the requirements above AND be at least 6 months of age and have an import permit. 

  • This helps limit importation from non-US puppy mills, as puppies from these operations are usually sold at less than 6 months of age. It will add some hoops for legitimate rescues aiming to re-home dogs, but as long as the import permit application process is reasonable, this is still a good additional measure. The responsible rescues can/will be able to do it, but it will hopefully deter dodgy rescues trying to bring in dogs under dodgy circumstances (or they will continue to try to skirt the rules and exploit loopholes… that’s another story).

The proposal also includes some reasonable exemptions to the new rules. One is for veterinary care, as sometimes the closest veterinary care (especially for referral centres) is across the border, for dog owners in both Canada and the US. So dogs that cross the border for veterinary care would be exempted from these requirements if they go straight to the clinic then return home.

There’s also an exemption to allow importation of puppies into Hawaii, as long as they’re not then transferred out of Hawaii before 6 months of age. (So, you’d be able to import puppies into Hawaii, but not use it as a laundering point to get puppies into the US and then ship them to the mainland.) The reason for making this exemption is unclear to me.

While the basic requirements make sense, some of the challenges with this new proposed act are also apparent:

  • What is “in good health“? That’s quite subjective. Does a dog with a minor chronic illness fit? Does a run down rescue dog that will rebound with good supportive care get excluded? What about dogs with treatable conditions? Who is going to specifically define “good health,” and make this assessment at the border?
  • What will “a competent veterinary authority recognized by the Secretary” entail? This is meant to make sure that people writing health certificates are legit. However, it can get messy. For Canada, it could be simple, such as requiring them to be licensed to practice in their province. It gets messier in some countries with less established or reliable regulatory mechanisms.
  • What will the Secretary actually required for vaccination, parasite control and testing? Who sets these requirements and how? What kind of wiggle room will there be?
  • What methods of permanent identification will be accepted? (e.g. microchip)

As is usual, this proposed act is the framework, and the sink-or-swim aspects really depend on the regulation and application that come later. With good people who understand the issues making reasonable decisions, this type of regulatory strengthening can have a great impact, but it’s often not as simple as it first appears. Time will tell.