Two volunteers escaped with minor injuries
EDMONTON––A September 13, 2014 rollover crash near Olds, Alberta that killed at least three dogs in a load of 30 has reignited debate over the practice of importing dogs from U.S. shelters into Canada.
The seven a.m. accident came toward the end of a multi-day drive from the Los Angeles area to an adoption event in Edmonton. Two volunteer drivers for a Saskatchewan-based dog rescue organization reportedly escaped with minor injuries after flipping their SUV and a horse trailer full of crated dogs on Alberta Highway 2, just south of Highway 27.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police corporal Mike Dunsmore said “driver fatigue was a factor, while alcohol, speed, weather and road condition had all been ruled out,” reported Damien Wood of the Calgary Sun.
“Two dogs were killed in the impact and 20 were hurt. A third dog died soon after,” Wood wrote.
Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society volunteers took in the surviving dogs and searched for eight dogs who escaped from their damaged crates after the crash. Two dogs remained at large two days later, including a pit bull who was believed to have been hit by a car.
Most of the dogs involved in the accident appeared to be pit bulls or pit mixes, but at least one Chihuahua was reportedly recovered almost a mile from the scene. The importation of pit bulls of uncertain history added a dimension to a controversy over rescue dog imports that had already smouldered for a decade. Pit bulls are prohibited in Ontario and much of Manitoba. Alberta, where the accident occurred, has little or no breed-restrictive legislation, and at least since 2000 has led Canada in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
In Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, “confirmed aggressive dog incidents” and related criminal charges tripled in 2013, and in mid-2014 were up 15% more.
Dogs from Los Angeles
Objections to transportation of dogs specifically from Los Angeles to Canada emerged after the Vancouver Sun in January 2011 reported that an organization called Better Life Dog Rescue had imported about 200 dogs from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation.
Opposing Views blogger Phyllis Daugherty, long outspokenly critical of Los Angeles city animal control director Brenda Barnette, wrote that the transports were part of “a shell game to avoid being the one who may ultimately have to euthanize the animals who break down under the stress of long-term confinement and/or repeated relocation.”
The major concern on the Canadian side of the border, suggested Humane World blogger Thomas Mair, was that pit bulls from Los Angeles might help to fuel recent increases in both dogfighting and dog attacks in the Lower Peninsula of British Columbia.
“Rescued” pit bulls from the Los Angeles area were reportedly impounded from an alleged dogfighting operation near the B.C. border on the U.S. side in May 2013, but have not actually been identified in connection with any of the Canadian incidents.
Canada changed the rules
Meanwhile, responding to rising concern about what dogs are being imported into Canada, in what health under what conditions, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on November 1, 2013 rescinded a 2005 rule that allowed animal charities to import puppies almost without restriction.
The rule was blamed for outbreaks of heartworm, the arrival of dangerous dogs from U.S. shelters, and for harming the chances of Canadian shelter dogs to be adopted, though Canadian shelters currently rehome more than 85% of the dogs they receive.
But observers worried that rescinding the 2005 rule might reduce accountability for puppy imports into Canada by encouraging rescuers to import dogs as individuals, as appears to have occurred preceding the September 13, 2014 accident, rather than under organizational umbrellas.
“In 2005 the CFIA introduced a special policy to assist animal welfare organizations that were rescuing displaced dogs from the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Effective November 1, 2013 this policy is no longer required and has been discontinued,” said the CFIA announcement.
The Canada Border Services Agency enforces Canadian import laws, but the CFIA prescribes the animal import requirements and inspection fees.
“Rescued dogs under eight months of age and destined for an animal welfare organization are no longer eligible for import,” the CFIA announcement added. “Rescued dogs eight months or older and destined for an animal welfare organization are eligible for import, provided they meet import requirements for resale. Rescued dogs of any age may still be imported by an individual, provided the animal is able to meet Canadian import conditions.”
Imports of dogs by animal welfare organizations are defined by the CFIA as a category of commercial import, since the collection of adoption fees or donations in lieu of set fees legally constitutes a form of sale.
Commercially imported dogs must be accompanied by certification of having been vaccinated against rabies, and must be microchipped for identification. Importers are also required to pay inspection fees of $30 for the first dog and $5.00 for each additional dog in the shipment.
Some of these requirements are waived for puppies imported by individuals as their own, depending on the puppies’ ages.
“Wild west sphere”
The immediate catalyst to the CFIA rescinding the 2005 rule may have been a March 2013 exposé by Charlie Gillis of the Canadian national news magazine Maclean’s.
“Canada has become a refuge to the huddled masses of the canine world, as thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—flood into the country each year,” Gillis wrote.
“It’s a wild west sphere, with no one tracking the number of rescuees entering the country, nor their countries of origin. The CFIA has recorded a spike over the past five years in the number of adult dogs imported annually for commercial use, from 150 to 922. But that represents a fraction of the inflow, because some rescuees enter the country designated as pets rather than commercial-use animals, and because border officers don’t keep count of the dogs they inspect for proof of rabies and for general health.
“One Calgary-based agency contacted by Maclean’s, Pawsitive Match Inc., says it trucked in about 800 dogs from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico in 2012 alone.”
Added Gillis, “As many as 80 new Canadian groups join Petfinder each year, and while not all import their dogs, enough do that a few mouse clicks can raise the profiles of canines from such far-flung locales as Greece, Taiwan, and Iran.”
Gillis approvingly profiled the work of Adopt an Indian Desi Dog founder Barb Gard, who since 2009 has imported about 250 dogs to British Columbia from Delhi, India, and Tails from Greece founder Diane Aldan who has imported about 300 dogs to Ontario from Greek rescuers since 2001.
Considerable adoption transport goes on within Canada, as well as into Canada from international destinations. The 43 shelters operated by the British Columbia SPCA, for example, annually transport more than 5,500 animals among themselves to maximize adoption opportunities. The volume amounts to nearly a third of the total of about 16,400 animals per year whom the BC/SPCA rehomes.
About 230 rescuers reportedly participate in the Rescuing Dogs in Canada adoption transport network, which requires that “All dogs in need of rescue must be within Canada.”
But Gillis also recognized the criticisms voiced by Canadian Federation of Humane Societies chief executive Barbara Cartwright.
“We need to direct Canadians to adopt here,” Cartwright told Gillis. “It can be very frustrating for a local humane society that has a dog overpopulation problem, and is looking at euthanizing animals, while dogs are being brought in from a different continent.”
Added Gillis, “Cartwright also raises concern about the potential for imported dogs to carry pathogens like rabies or the deadly parvovirus––though that concern seems minimal, given the CFIA requirements for canines entering the country.”
But the 2005 CFIA rule had come under increasing criticism for allegedly allowing the import of diseased dogs since 2009, when the Hamilton Academy of Veterinary Medicine reported a tenfold surge in heartworm cases around Hamilton, Ontario. The Toronto Humane Society had already noticed that heartworm cases throughout Ontario had increased from 258 in 2002 to 676 in 2008. The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association reported a 280% increase in heartworm from 2005 to 2008.
“The prime reason is abandoned dogs imported from Louisiana into Canada by the Hamilton SPCA after Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” alleged Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington in October 2009. “In 2008 some 600 dogs from Louisiana reached the Hamilton SPCA, most under eight months old, supplied by the Louisiana dog rescue firm Bordeaux Animal Rescue Krewe. Forty-five of 63 heartworm cases around Hamilton were dogs who had been imported from Louisiana and the southern U.S.,” according to Hamilton veterinarian Randy Stirling.
BARK director Jillian Donaghey told Tiffany Mayer of the St. Catherines Standard that the BARK dogs sent to Ontario had all been tested for heartworm. But Donaghey acknowledged that other rescuers had sent dogs from the New Orleans area to Canada before BARK formed in 2006.
Lincoln County Humane Society executive director Kevin Strooband and Welland SPCA manager Ted Bettle also denied Worthington’s claims. Wrote Mayer, “Strooband said only two Louisiana dogs out of hundreds the shelter has helped have been infected.”
Suggested Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases moderator Tam Garland, of Texas A&M University, “It may not be that there is an epidemic of heartworms, but rather an epidemic of diagnosis as veterinarians are more sensitized to the heartworm issue. It is likely that mosquitoes carrying heartworm were already in Canada before the displaced dogs arrived. Infected displaced dogs may not have helped, but they have not been shown to have caused an epidemic of heartworm.”
But Worthington (1927-2013) was for 57 years among the most widely read journalists in Canada, widely syndicated in the U.S. as well, and his charges had lasting influence.
Jamaka Petzak says
It’s absolutely incomprehensible to me that this is allowed. It needs to be outlawed.
Merritt Clifton says
Twice I have hauled animals nearly the length of the U.S., and on one occasion hauled significantly more–both dogs and cats––than were being transported by the rescuers who were involved in the Alberta accident. From that experience, I know first hand that dogs and cats can be safely transported for long distances by road; but the job requires an air-conditioned vehicle which protects the animals from the elements, allows the animals space to stand up, turn around, and lie down in different positions, and offers the animals access to fresh drinking water at all times. Plastic transport crates piled in a horse trailer don’t come close to fulfilling the “Five freedoms” that are the basis of humane animal care, namely freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behavior. The dogs involved in the Alberta accident were transported either through or around the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, and through or around some of the hottest and most arid deserts in North America. It is difficult for me to imagine how this could be considered “rescue.”
I totally agree with this comment, this whole mess is unacceptable!
Tracy Babiak says
Millions of dogs are being put to sleep for no reason in the US. Any effort to help them should be applauded. I have an LA dog myself and she’s beautiful. Canadian Shelters need to work better with rescue groups that will help them. The big shelter have funding of millions of dollars and they have a lot of resources to save dogs. The small rescues have no funding, no employees and still achieve great results.
Merritt Clifton says
As of mid-2013, U.S. shelters were cumulatively killing about 1.45 million dogs per year, a 90% decrease in 30 years. Of those, about 900,000 were killed for dangerous behavior. Most of the rest were killed due to health issues. Almost all of the decrease in shelter killing is attributable to increased pet dog sterilization. The numbers of dog adoptions per year has remained static throughout the past 30 years, but as the number of dogs received at shelters has declined, the percentage of dogs who are adopted has increased, and as the numbers of puppies and healthy young dogs received has dropped, older dogs and dogs with remediable conditions have become more easily rehomed. For details, please see “Why we cannot adopt our way out of shelter killing,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-6G.
LA Bowden says
I am involved in many aspects across Canada as to animal welfare & animal rescues. I also assist American animal rescue volunteers by posting whatever death row dogs I can to twitter. As with everything in life, there are always two very relevant sides to every issue. I do have friends who run breed specific rescues & will pull dogs from the United States, New York & California in particular.
America is an animal welfare disaster, a complete mess. Rescues & shelters not caring for animals properly, kittens & puppies being euthanized while severely injured dogs are kept in rescue to mend. Back yard breeders, hoarders, dogfighting & the list could truly continue.
As I had set out to assist rescue, I could not deny help to those needing transport for cross-border animals, nor assisting with adoption posts once they’ve arrived. Due to the population in the States, clearly, animals will also be bountiful & the numbers will be overwhelming. Something desperately needs to be done as to the animal rescue & welfare system in the U.S..
In Canada we also face many challenges.
We have transport needs from our most northern regions that cannot be met when needed. Our Aboriginal First Nations people are in dire need of veterinary care for their animals. Every reserve community has a stray dog overpopulation issue of at least 300 dogs. Most reserves are fly-in communities, only accessible by plane & in winter possible transport on frozen lakes. To try to minimize the stray populations our First Nations communities unwillingly have little choice other than to shoot the strays as children can be seriously harmed & some have been killed. When dog shoots are announced to the public, rescues close to said reserves do anything & everything to assist by removing dogs. Every spay & neuter clinic, every implant project (Dogs With No Names) is an incredibly expensive & exhausting effort.
Animal rescue has always been a necessity as so many animals are abandoned, neglected & abused. For those that think an animal is more than just an animal, wanting to help, wanting to share is just a natural process. The reality, whether agreed upon or not is not every animal can or should be saved.
Many in Canada judge and say absolutely horrid things when they can not know the true extent of our First Nations issues as to the stray dogs. Many in Canada are extremely resentful that some rescues bring in dogs from America & I understand their concerns. For every dog brought in to our country there are others that already exist here in shelters that will inevitably die. It is not for me to decide what is right or wrong on this issue, it’s been a debatable topic for years & will continue to be. What I do know is that the dogs I know to have been adopted from other countries are loved here, they are happy here, they are healthy & they left behind a life that so moved their adoptive families that they moved heaven & earth to bring them here. How do I judge the love & commitment of someone else when it comes to saving a life wherever that life had derived from?
It’s a blessing that AARCS has taken these dogs into care. What I do always try to ensure is that those who are adopting are completely aware as to the issues their dog may have. That they are aware as to the adoption process & protocols by which they have committed & that they do everything within their financial & emotional needs to do what is best for their adopted animal. All animals that breathe are living creatures & deserve the same consideration that we give ourselves as well as those around us.
You stated that EVERY reserve has a stray dog population of at least 300 dogs, that is quite the statement to make. I have been to a few reserves in the BC Interior and yes have seen stray dogs but nowhere near the 300 you are claiming.
You also stated that MOST reserves are fly-in and while that is true for reserves in the most Northern areas of Canada, it is definitely not MOST of the reserves.
I feel that with so many shelters/rescues here in Canada trying to place dogs that more should not be brought in from another country as it has the potential to add to our issues with dog over-population. For every out-of-country dog adopted in Canada that means another Canadian dog that will sit in a shelter/rescue and possibly be euthanized.
liza williams says
so if we stop dogs then we should stop all animals coming across…cows,horses,pigs,chickens, sheep fish, etc.then let’s see where canada is its food supply. unrealistic you say well so is saying rescues can’t help dogs on the other side of the border or anywhere in the world for that matter. god created all creatures and man made the borders.. dogs know no borders only love and loyalty.
liza williams says
dogs in a horse trailer is unacceptable but this could have been a van or bus or whatever accidents happen that is why they are called accidents.. and that is what the point of the article should have been HOW THEY WERE BEING TRANSPORTED not whether we should be allowed to bring dogs in. as most of the people in the ctv news blogs after their articles said , we don’t care if a dog is american or canadian. supply and demand is what this world this by and if a shelter doesn’t have what they are looking for then they will go to a breeder. so why not rescue dogs and save their lives so people can rescue a dog instead of buying a dog. sounds like a win /win to me.
Branwyn Finch says
As a resident of Massachusetts, I have very mixed emotions about animal transport. Since we in the Northeast have essentially no dog overpopulation problem, (except for pit bulls), I see the demand for adoptable dogs here, especially puppies, and logically realize that they will have to come from somewhere. If it weren’t for southern transports, I believe many shelters and rescues in New England would close, or else every shelter here would be filled with only pit bulls and dogs with serious behavior problems. Spay and neuter education worked here, and the reality is, most friendly dogs without serious behavior problems who need rehoming are placed privately, often through social networking by friends, family and neighbors.
There is a serious problem with sick dogs and puppies being brought in through rescue; in fact, I have seen more sick and diseased southern and foreign transport puppies than I have retail pet shop/puppy mill dogs. I know people who have adopted puppies from “reputable” no kill shelters who were sick and loaded with parasites, had parvo, or were suffering from tick borne illnesses .. My sisters recently adopted dog, who was declared healthy by the rescue, ended up costing her thousands of dollars in vet bills to restore his health. Not all families can afford these expenses. The continued spread of deadly parvo virus by imported dogs is of great concern to northern dog owners…as my vet said, in many decades of practice, the only dogs he has ever seen with parvo have been from the south.
Even more concerning to me is the fact that the dogs chosen for transport are chosen at the whim of the rescuers, and are not in any way screened for temperament or adoptability. So even though our northern shelters are overflowing with unwanted pit bulls, (as are shelters all over the country), the southern transports are shipping pit bulls and pit puppies up here and just labeling them as “lab mixes”. Transporters send up dogs that are half feral, dogs who show zero signs of friendliness or sociability, and dogs who are flat out aggressive. So now these behaviorally difficult dogs are no longer a problem for the southern shelters, they become OUR problem.
Humane advocates need to understand the heartache they are causing for so many families with their irresponsible polices. My daughter’s 15 year old friend had been waiting years for her family to get a dog; they thought they were doing the right thing by going to a shelter and adopting a small, eight week old, mix breed puppy. I was there when the excited girl showed us her new puppy, who “came from Alabama.” By fourteen weeks old, the family had to call a professional trainer to deal with aggression issues centered around this puppy’s resource guarding. This was NOT a behaviorally normal puppy, and this puppy should NEVER have been transported to Massachusetts and offered for adoption. This family and their children are heartbroken, and afraid of this dog, saddled with the expense of paying for trainers, and will have to make a traumatic decision as to whether or not to keep an animal that is destined to be a miserable pet. All because a group of emotionally immature, malicious, or perhaps criminally stupid women involved in “dog rescue” needed to pat themselves on the back over “saving another dog”.
Transporting dogs from areas of overpopulation to areas where there are adopters looking for pets is a great idea, in theory. But this practice needs to be regulated. The only dogs that should be transported should be free from infectious diseases, and should be temperament tested to insure they are safe, friendly, affectionate pets….that is what virtually all adopters are looking for.
mom in eugene says
This is insane, shipping a load.of pit bulls up to Canda. This is what no kill (aka slow kill) gets.you- tons of unwanted pits, that are warehouses, shuffled, until they get a home (upping the # of maulers in the community) or get to a place that will PTS like they should have done to begin with.
Slow killers just pass the buck, it’s ridiculous. We need.to PTS all the pits no one wants and be done with it, instead if dumping them.elsewhere.
NO ONE WINS, when pit bulls proliferate an area. Not the citizens, not the law enforcement, not the shelter operators, and not the dogs! I guess dog fighters win, but is that a group we want to help???
Canada- you are smarter than this! Ban the imports, and BSL the few remaining provinces, before you are swarmed with deadly dogs, and kids w faces torn off. Do better than we.do. it’s not that hard to accomplish.