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Veterinarian lawmakers propose increased scrutiny of imported dogs

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More than one million dogs are imported into the United States each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most are healthy, but some are not. And the number of unhealthy ones is increasing.

That’s particularly alarming in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put the spotlight on zoonotic diseases and the risk to human health. 

Three US congressmen—who also happen to veterinarians—are trying to do something about it. Last week, the trio introduced new bipartisan legislation called the Healthy Dog Importation Act (HDIA).

If passed, the HDIA would ensure that all dogs entering the US are certified as healthy and not at risk of spreading dangerous diseases that could impact the health of both animals and people.

Under current law, the importation of canines is overseen by the CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). But of the more than one million dogs imported each year, only about 1% are screened for diseases such as rabies, influenza, and distemper. The bill’s sponsors maintain that this poses a serious health threat not just to other dogs and household pets, but to the country’s livestock and food supply, and that current pet import rules can’t protect against this public and animal health threat.

The bill is the result of the combined labor of Representative Ralph Abraham, MD, DVM, (R-Louisiana); Representative Kurt Schrader, DVM, (D-Oregon); and Representative Ted Yoho, DVM, (R-Florida).

The HDIA would provide the USDA with additional resources to monitor and protect the health of dogs being imported into the US. Specifically, the bill would require every person importing a dog into the country to present valid certificates of vaccination to US Customs along with a certificate of good health signed by a licensed veterinarian.

Most imported dogs are pets accompanying their owners and aren’t generally considered to be a risk to public health. But a small percentage enter the country for resale, transfer, or donation. In 2018, the USDA issued permits for 2,917 dogs who were imported for resale purposes under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The same year, 317 were denied entry for failing to comply with the CDC’s regulations governing the importation of animals capable of causing human disease.

NEWStat contacted Representative Abraham’s office to find out if the diseases those dogs would be screened for would include COVID-19.

That, as it turns out, is yet to be determined.

The proposed legislation itself doesn’t specifically mention COVID-19 or SARS-Cov-2, and Matthew Goulding, Abraham’s communications director, told NEWStat that APHIS “is responsible for determining which vaccinations dogs will be required to have, based on risks associated with the country/region where the dog is imported from.”

And the legislation will have to pass into law before APHIS can make that determination.

Photo credit: © iStock/Chalabala