In the current political climate, cordial discourse has gone the way of the dodo bird, trans fats, and disappointed Cubs fans. The Left and Right spend days placing blame on each other for deemed failings in Washington. However, there is one issue, which our elected leaders seem to find common ground — protecting animals. No less than a dozen bills have been proposed in recent months, many of which will garner bipartisan support as they move through the floors of Congress.
While the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) supports congenial legislating, and will gladly praise the passage of bills like the Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act and Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, we fear that a larger issue impacting American families across the country has gone unnoticed.
Commerce is one of the most closely regulated functions of our economy. Currently, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspects commercial dog breeders to keep dogs safe. The organization regulates the shipment of nursery and greenhouse plants in all 50 states to fight the spread of insects and diseases across the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets rules and regulations on goods that can and cannot be transported on highways to protect drivers and passengers.
Notwithstanding all these alphabet agencies and their overlapping jurisdictions and regulations, there is one ticking time bomb that remains ignored, and threatens the health and safety of American families, homeland security, and animals. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dogs are imported from other countries, transported across state borders, and sold at rescues and shelters with little to no oversight from any agency.
Newspaper accounts from across the nation tell the story: Shelter Dogs Imported From Asia Quarantined To Prevent Further Disease Transmission; Egyptian Rescue Dog Diagnosed With Rabies, Handlers To Undergo Post Exposure Treatment; TB Diagnosed In Dog Rescued From Turkey; Rescue Dog Used As Drug Mule To Traffic $1 Million In Heroin From Puerto Rico To New York; Adopter Killed By Newly Adopted Dog With Known Bite History. These travesties are the direct consequence of lax pet import laws and the absence of regulations on animal shelters and rescues.
These problems could be mitigated if we had appropriate pet import laws and regulated commerce in pet rescues like we regulate the commerce of pets sold in the retail supply chain — like other goods moved around the country. But we have yet to see any leadership on these matters coming from state houses or Capitol Hill. Instead, we see political grandstanding by those who want to be regarded as animal rights leaders. But they are not protecting the dogs they claim to care about, and they are not protecting the families adopting these pets. Yes, the Big Cats Safety Act, and Pet and Women Safety Act are reasonable acts by Congress to protect animals and families, but these laws will mostly serve as puffery for sponsoring politicians on their social media channels and press releases.
Based on industry data, there are between 70 and 80 million dogs currently residing in US households, and it takes 6.5 million puppies just to replace the ones who die each year. As dog breeding has become highly regulated, overpopulation has been solved in much of the US — there are now fewer local dogs available for purchase or adoption. Each year, lawmakers draft bills to further restrict the breeding and commerce of American-bred dogs, based on the outdated belief that there is a dog overpopulation issue. This myth is fueling the explosion of importation and rescue transport activities, moving thousands of unregulated dogs all over the country. With escalating demand and the ‘no kill’ philosophy spreading, rescues and shelters are motivated to import and place dogs with families that should never be put up for adoption.
As an organization whose mission is to promote the welfare of animals, to strengthen the human-animal bond, and safeguard the rights of responsible animal owners, the NAIA supports finding loving homes for healthy, temperamentally-sound animals in need. It is the time for policy makers to take a serious look at the state of not-for-profit animal transport, sheltering, and adoption practices in the US. To protect public health and safety and the welfare of dogs, our elected leaders must recognize the need to treat all pets in commerce with the same amount of care and regulation. Surely these pets deserve as much protection as houseplants.
Patti Strand is the President of the National Animal Interest Alliance.