Patti Strand, National Director, June 10, 2006
Add Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) and the Helen Woodward Animal Center (San Diego area) to the burgeoning ranks of humane shelters across the nation that are swapping their historic role for headlines and fundraising opportunities. Shelters that formerly housed sick, old and homeless American pets are now importing dogs from foreign countries for adoption. SAS recently accepted three dogs from a Mexican shelter and Helen Woodward accepted 9 from Romania last month.
At first glance, the numbers involved in these two operations appear inconsequential, but when the numbers are multiplied by the number of shelters participating, and when the number of times each shelter takes part is factored in, the overall effect is not insignificant. The truth is, some shelters are operating today as de facto pet stores and if these small numbers are rationalized away as somehow acceptable because they are small, then this backdrop of questionable activity will be used incrementally to create an accepted statistical norm that includes imports as part of the local animal control equation.
NAIA Trust opposes shelter imports on ethical, public health and civic grounds. The addition of Seattle Animal Shelter is particularly disturbing because SAS is a municipal, tax-funded agency. Moreover, it's located in a city that passed coercive legislation against its resident dog breeders in the early 1990's.
The Seattle area's pet dog population had been falling for decades prior to passage of the so-called pet overpopulation ordinance in 1991. NAIA gathered the shelter data from previous years that was available at the time and performed a regression analysis on the data predicting future shelter population trends based on those numbers. It was already evident, way back then, that without any new laws the trend line would lead us to where we are today, to a state of equilibrium where the number of dogs available (supply) would equal the number of dogs demanded by the public. Based on current shelter numbers, Seattle has progressed at least to a state of equilibrium and may well have gone beyond equilibrium to a point where demand exceeds supply. If dog runs at SAS are empty, we believe that they should help local shelters that aren't as fortunate.
The burgeoning shelter import enterprise doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is part of a multi-faceted national trend, the success of which relies on an ever decreasing supply of American-bred dogs - something which is a natural outcome of changing values, shifting demographics and overregulation of American breeders. So, while conscientious American breeders are working to improve their breeds, screening sires and dams to enhance puppy health, socializing puppies so they'll adjust well to their new homes, and providing healthy, vaccinated puppies at the proper age to consumers, dogs are being imported from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, Romania, Columbia and virtually every other nation with stray dogs available for export to the US.
It is not conspiratorial to note that in many of the areas where dog importation is commonplace, shelter personnel were leaders in pushing anti-breeder legislation. At the same time, they marketed the unsubstantiated claim that breeders displace shelter dogs with their placements, while shelter adoptions save a life. And throughout the process, many shelters began changing their mission in fundamental ways. Today many of these shelters treat dogs and cats as commodities. For example, some no kill shelters refuse to accept any but the most adoptable animals while they import dogs from distant lands to create headlines and a steady supply of dogs that can be adopted quickly with little expense to the shelter. What is the difference between these operations and pet stores? The differences lie in their ability to wrap themselves in humane rhetoric and purpose, and their ability to avoid regulations and laws that pet stores and private breeders must obey.
It's not only shelters that are importing dogs as if they were pet stores or brokers. With responsible breeders targeted by mandatory spay-neuter laws, or taxed out of existence, there is a greater demand than supply of dogs in the US, so American consumers are turning to foreign sources for purebred pets.
Los Angeles, a city that just passed a mandatory sterilization ordinance to go with its high breeder license fees, has been inundated with Mexican puppies smuggled across the border. A recent sting operation in San Diego revealed that about 10,000 Mexican puppies, mostly sick and underage animals, are making their way into Southern California each year through the San Diego portal. These puppies are also entering the pet industry, but typically not through the organized pet industry. The majority of these puppies are sold through newspaper ads, flea markets and out of cars and vans in parking lots, generally not from stores. A fair number are landing in shelters. A much smaller, but significant number enter the American pet market from Europe, Asia, and South America each year.
If you are concerned about practices that undermine humane sheltering and flood the US with foreign dogs, please use the NAIA Trust Lobby Center located at www.capwiz.com/naiatrust to express your alarm. Once you are there, scroll down to the State Officials heading and alert your state and local lawmakers to these issues. Here are some questions that should be addressed. Is it appropriate for county tax payers to pay for sheltering dogs from foreign countries? If empty runs are becoming common in local shelters, would it not be wiser to close some facilities? If humane relocation is acceptable to local citizens, wouldn't it make more sense for the empty shelter to help less fortunate shelters that are nearby or at least ones that are located in the US? Given that many dogs living in third world countries have been exposed to rabies or carry exotic diseases and parasites not typically found in the US, shouldn't our concern for public health in the US trump concerns about third world strays?.