A much-needed crackdown on U.S. businesses like puppy mills that breed pets purely for profit and without regard for the health and well-being of the animals, is having an unintended consequence.
Another often unscrupulous business, the importation of puppies from countries with fewer breeding restrictions, is stepping in to answer U.S. consumer demand for purebred and cross-bred puppies.
To make matters worse, there’s no effective system in place in this country to track how many dogs are imported, their true age and health status, where they come from, where they end up, and whether underage puppies ever receive the vaccinations they require in their first year of life.
Unless we get a handle on it quickly, it seems the puppy import business has the potential to become just as hideous as the puppy mill industry.
According to this dvm360 report, many of the tiny victims are being smuggled in from Mexico:
“We have found puppies stuffed in speaker boxes, screwed into the car door panels and wrapped in blankets with their little legs taped to their bodies and stuffed under seats,” says Captain Aaron Reyes of the Southeast Animal Control Authority.
“On one occasion, we found, I believe, a dozen puppies in a plastic container in the back of car. Two of the puppies had already died because of the heat, and all of the others were panting and doing severe mouth breathing. They were cooking in there, and they were about 5 weeks old.”
Among the problems being encountered at the U.S./Mexican border by the Border Puppy Task Force:
- Puppies getting sick and dying within days of crossing the border
- Indiscriminate breeding of fathers with daughters and brothers with sisters
- Widespread incidence of distemper and parvovirus
There is tremendous financial incentive to bring puppies across the border. For example, a Yorkie puppy can be purchased in Mexico for a few hundred dollars and then resold in the U.S. for over $1,000.
Captain Reyes: “We busted a big, local sick and underage puppy smuggler in our jurisdiction. This person had $40,000 in cash receipts for puppy sales in one month. This is just one individual, I think it is safe to say that it is a multi-million dollar industry.”
Dead Puppies at LAX
Puppies bred in Mexico for export across the border into the U.S. aren't the only problem.
In 2008, officials at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) began reporting a significant increase in the number of puppies discovered dead on arrival from other countries.
Where before there would be one or two dead puppies encountered in a year, LAX officials reported four dead pups in just one month.
It was discovered the bulk of the puppies are coming from South Korea. Flights from Korea to Los Angeles are hard on full-grown humans, never mind six-week-old puppies, many of which died in transit from hypoglycemia.
Still other puppies are coming from Australia, as well as Bulldogs from Hungary.
Any dog shipped to the U.S. requires paperwork verifying his or her age.
In the case of puppies flown into LAX, the County of Los Angeles' Department of Public Health uncovered rampant fake paperwork.
Importers have caught on to the fact that dogs four months or older can enter the U.S. without restrictions after their arrival, so dates of birth on the documents shipped with the puppies are routinely falsified to indicate the dogs are older than their actual age.
In fact, most of the pups being shipped are still too young to vaccinate.
As the number of countries importing dogs to the U.S. grows, so does the potential for outbreaks of diseases even more dangerous than parvo and distemper.
“CDC's biggest concern with these imported dogs is the risk of rabies,” says G. Gale Galland, a veterinarian with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Exacerbating the threat of rabies is the fact that most of the dogs being shipped are too young to even be vaccinated for rabies. Over the past few years, there have been a handful of cases of rabid dogs being smuggled in, but enforcement, both at border crossings and airports, is proving difficult.
Identifying Root Causes
In order to address the problem of smuggled and imported underage and sick puppies, it's necessary to understand why this activity is on the increase. There are several factors at work, including:
- Better regulation of commercial breeders in the U.S. In 2009 alone, over 33 states enacted legislation intended to either clean up or close down the puppy mill industry and other unscrupulous breeders. The supply of U.S.-bred puppies available to pet stores and other pet retailers is being significantly reduced as a result.
- Puppy mill owners looking to cash in on the import business. Unscrupulous breeders, whether they've downscaled their operations due to stricter regulations, or been shut down altogether, are looking for a way to replace lost income. Many of these people are becoming puppy brokers or middlemen for imported puppy mill pets.
- Consumer demand for purebred and cross-bred ‘designer' puppies. Despite the public outcry against puppy mills and overwhelming approval of the new restrictive laws for commercial dog breeding operations, people in the market for canine family members are still buying from pet stores.
An even bigger problem is internet sales of puppies. Every time a potential dog owner decides, often on impulse, they simply must have a purebred Maltese puppy or some exotic hybrid blend of two or three different breeds, it has the potential to line the pockets of a puppy mill operator or importer.
- Uneducated and/or impulsive consumer purchases. Many people in the market for a dog have simply not done their homework to learn the significant risks associated with purchasing either an imported puppy or a pup with unverifiable health history or lineage. Impulse purchases are almost never a good idea, but they can be especially harmful when it comes to choosing a new family pet.
- Not-for-profit, misguided or uninformed importers. Rescue groups, well-meaning armed forces personnel serving overseas and even veterinarians have imported dogs from other countries without an appropriate level of concern for the health risks involved.
- Weak federal import regulations. Government agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol, the CDC and the USDA don't have the staff, resources or law enforcement authority to effectively regulate the import of live animals. In addition, most of the laws governing live animals crossing U.S. borders were written during a time when the only dogs being transported into the country were pets of families returning from extended trips or business abroad.
How You Can Make a Difference
If you plan to add a new dog to your family, even if you've done your homework and know exactly what you want, I encourage you to check your local shelters and rescue organizations first. Depending on the breed you're interested in, you might be surprised to learn there are homeless purebred dogs – sometimes even puppies – available for adoption.
If you can't find a pup locally, there are reputable online rescue sites. Some rescue organizations have state-to-state relay programs, allowing a homeless animal in Michigan to be transported by caring volunteers to a loving forever home in Arkansas.
How wonderful would it be if you could save a homeless pup and get your favorite breed in the bargain?
If you have no luck at the local shelter, find a reputable breeder. Ask for referrals from your veterinarian, a trusted acquaintance, or local breed clubs. You can also visit professional dog shows and ask around.
A reputable breeder will want to meet and interview anyone interested in buying a puppy. That's why you won't find responsible breeders selling to pet stores.
Always visit a breeder's facility in person. You want to see for yourself the conditions in which your puppy was born and raised. Ideally, you'll also be able to meet the parents of your little boy or girl.
This also allows you to review your future family member's pedigree together with the breeder. If you are interested in purchasing a puppy that was raised on raw food or has minimal vaccines prior to purchasing, consider checking out www.naturalrearing.com.
If you are looking to find the healthiest pup you can possibly find, review my 18-point assessment, listed below.