Imports and Immunological Concerns

Importing dogs is a decision that needs to be made with care and concern. Importing dogs from countries with clear veterinary standards, the risks are very low. Most Hamiltonstovare in America have to be imported well over 3,000 miles from the place of their birth. In almost every single case, the climate is different and the types of disease to be exposed to is different. Generally speaking most European imports to America have very little exposure to tick borne illnesses but are otherwise immunologically healthy.

For example, when I imported Alice, her first vet did a full blood test to test for various communicable diseases that are common here. Alice tested completely negative, no trace ever, of antibodies of any tick borne illness. While that is awesome, it can be very bad. The very bad side is that Alice’s body does not know how to respond to low doses of tick borne illnesses, so that means that the possibility of a bad reaction is much higher than other dogs born in America. So every year, I run a tick panel on Alice and Rolo to make sure that everything stays as it should. Most dogs born in America have some trace antibodies of some tick borne illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the theory is that those trace antibodies help prevent the disease from being bad. As Alice and Rolo don’t have those good antibodies, the potential for a lethal reaction is much greater.

Dogs that are imported to America by individuals are generally incredibly healthy and well cared for. The owners know what to look for, know how to prevent the spread of disease and understand the inherent risks associated with importing dogs.

What is incredibly shocking is that rescues import dogs from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Russia, China and South Korea at a staggering number. Those dogs are generally feral or farmed and in horrible condition. Most of those dogs have not had appropriate veterinary care that is in line with standard American practices. These dogs are brought over to meet the ever increasing demand of shelter dogs. The problem is that most of the general public has no clue of the needs of an import. Another issue is that these imports are completely unregulated, most requirements are just a need to be vaccinated against rabies. Quarantine is NOT required to any imported dog in America, regardless of country of origin. As long as the person or organization has a “health” certificate that declares them healthy at the time of import then everything is ok. Rescues do not understand that importing these incredibly hardy dogs poses a risk to dogs here. Some evidence is showing that excessive vaccination and use of monthly pesticides have weakened the immune systems of our native dogs. So to bring over a very hardy group of dogs that had to live Darwin’s laws of survival of the fittest means that some of these imports can and are carriers of disease that can be transmitted to other dogs here with ease.

The main case in point is the dog flu outbreak in the Midwest right now. The variety of the flu is of Asian origin and the theory is that it was brought over by rescues/shelters importing dogs that are visibly healthy. Those visibly healthy dogs are potentially patient zero of this outbreak that has caused thousands of dogs to be sick, lost revenue for boarding and training facilities, and in some cases the death of an innocent dog. I am all for saving dogs and rescue but never at the risk of others. Importing street dogs and meat farm dogs is dangerous and walks a tightrope.

To me the main solution is to regulate the import of rescue dogs, the new USDA APHIS laws apply to rescues but it only requires rabies, standard vaccinations and a visual health certificate. There is absolutely no requirement that dogs be isolated and in a quarantine situation even though some street and farmed dogs have been exposed to highly communicable diseases. I personally believe that no rescue should import dogs from another country until their local rescue problems are solved. Imports require special care and as a stop-gap measure, all adoptive owners should be informed where their dog was born so that appropriate care can be made.