The state of dog imports
As rescued animals find homes across state lines, new concerns emerge.
By JON RUTTER, Staff writer
Published: Sep 30, 2007 12:08 AM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa - Spike has come a long way, in more ways than one.Lancaster resident Steve Borruto contends that his black-and-white mixed-breed puppy was sickly when Harrisburg-based Castaway Critters put him up for adoption in June.Castaway Critters got Spike from a shelter in Virginia. Director Barbara Holmes disputes Borruto's claim that the rescue group knowingly turned over a pup infected with kennel cough and coccidia, an intestinal microbe.Spike, who lived in a foster home before he was adopted, has recovered.But some animal advocates see in the dispute a cautionary tale about importing dogs.Nobody knows exactly how many dogs are being brought into Pennsylvania from other states each year. The tally appears to be growing and is likely in the thousands, according to Jessie L. Smith, the state's deputy secretary for dog-law enforcement."It's somewhat controversial because there are plenty of Pennsylvania dogs that need homes."But others say the burgeoning trend toward cooperating and transporting animals around the country allows shelters and rescue groups to place more dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.Adoption demands vary widely, and welfare organizations have become more sophisticated about meeting them, noted Megan Gallagher Clark, director of community outreach at the Humane League of Lancaster County."We feel we're all in this together," Clark said. The real problem, especially in puppy-mill states such as Pennsylvania and Missouri, is mass production of puppies.If a family from North Carolina adopts a pup from Missouri, she added, "That's still one less animal that's homeless."Travels with FidoThe Humane League, 2195 L.300incoln Highway East, does not often handle out-of-state animals.Most of the 9,000 cats and 4,000 dogs that come in over a typical year are local, according to Clark. "Our first mission is to place our adoptable animals in our county."But adoption markets vary by community.There's more demand for big dogs in upstate Pennsylvania and little ones in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Clark explained, one shelter might be overwhelmed by dogs taken in a seizure while others want for animals. Special-needs pets can be another difficult fit.And so the groups cooperate.Clark said the Humane League works informally with facilities in Chester, Berks and Dauphin counties and also posts animals on Petfinder.com, a national listing.The adoption movement grew more mobile in 2003 when the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and PETsMart Charities launched a pilot "Rescue Waggin" program to transport dogs from 15 overflowing shelters in Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Wisconsin.Animal refugees from Hurricane Katrina further opened the transport pipeline, Clark said.But some animal advocates resist the idea of shuttling dogs around the nation.They say spay/neuter programs would help solve the pet-overpopulation problem more substantively."I honestly believe that Pennsylvania dogs should be given first priority," said Jenny Stephens of North Penn Puppy Mill Watch in Lansdale."A lot of the dogs they bring up [from Southern states] are little ones" that are more adoptable than older animals given up by their owners. And, inevitably, some of the pets are sick.Borruto, the owner of Spike, contends that Castaway Critters should reimburse him for $300 in veterinary bills.Barbara Holmes said her five-year-old, volunteer group would soon fold if it paid post-adoption vet bills.According to an adoption contract completed by Borruto's girlfriend, the group provides fundamental veterinary care for all of its dogs and puppies but cannot guarantee that the animals are sickness-free.The state is entering the fray. Proposed guidelines would require rescue groups handling 26 dogs o r more a year to buy licenses or kennel tags for their animals.Pennsylvania would check to make sure animals have rabies shots, Jessie Smith said, "but we wouldn't go and inspect their [foster] home the way we would a kennel."Much responsibility falls to animal-welfare organizations and pet owners to maintain the highest standards, said Kim Intino, director of animal-sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States."There's always the risk" of an animal getting sick no matter where it comes from, Intino said. "It's not a very simple thing ... to transport animals for adoption."But neither is it necessarily bad, according to Clark and others."If someone started bringing truckloads of cats here, that would be a problem," Clark acknowledged.That hasn't happened.Nor have out-of-state pups displaced older local animals that would otherwise be taken home, said Joan Brown, the Humane League president and chief executive officer."We most assuredly do" have puppies and young dogs for adoption, Brown said. "We get an awful lot of owner surrenders ... all ages, all sizes, all types."Adoption rates have risen slightly in the last couple of years, according to Brown.People take home 51 percent of the animals that come to the shelter, said Kerry Flanagan, managing director of operations.About 70 percent of the dogs and 30 percent of the cats find a berth, she added; rescue groups get some of the unwanted animals but the majority are euthanized."I hate to think of us as being in competition," Brown said of distant animal-welfare organizations."They're in the same position we're in. They're desperately trying to find homes for animals."