What you need to know about the Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020

The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020 was introduced in Congress to ensure that the dogs entering the United States are in good health.

by Monica DeBosscher, Esq. - Director of Partnerships, Community & Legal Affairs at Good Dog

The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020 was introduced in Congress by US Representatives Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Ted Yoho (R-FL). The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that the dogs entering the United States are in good health and that they are certified by a licensed veterinarian as having received all proper vaccinations. When passed, this new bill aims to limit the introduction of infectious diseases into the US.

We note that this article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to canine importation regulations and legislation, but rather is meant to help raise awareness for, promote, and explain the Healthy Dog Importation Act and some of the important positive impacts the bill could have on canine importation and, accordingly, the health of the entire dog population in this country.

What to Know About Canine Importation

“No one ever imagined that a time would come when a shortage of dogs would occur in the United States...,” says Patti Strand, founder of the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA). Ms. Strand explains that many people in the U.S. do not realize that dog overpopulation is no longer a major issue in over 70% of states, and that dog overpopulation is declining in all the states where it is still a problem. Ms. Strand sums up the current situation simply: “We have a dog distribution problem in this country, not a dog overpopulation problem…many locales no longer have enough dogs to meet local demand for pet dogs.”

As we explain in It’s Time to Stop Using the Term “Puppy Mill,” four major initiatives and drivers contributed to the enormous success of counteracting the US dog overpopulation problem and drastically decreasing the number of dogs and cats being relinquished and euthanized each year:

  • changes to shelter and veterinary practices
  • promotion of spay and neuter policies
  • differential licensing requirements and fees for intact and altered dogs
  • evolving societal perceptions and uses of dogs from primarily working animals to family members

Because dog overpopulation in this country is no longer the problem it once was, some sources have turned to dog importation to meet the current and future demand for canine companions.

In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report which found that more than one million dogs are imported into the U.S. each year. Only about one percent of these imports are screened for diseases such as rabies, canine influenza, and distemper. Current import rules do not offer much protection against the threats to public and animal health that canine importation presents - in order for dogs to enter the U.S. now, they must only appear to be in good health and have a rabies vaccination (with such vaccination required only if the dogs are coming from a high-risk country for rabies).

Import rules are complicated by the multiple government agencies that oversee dog importation, including Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). This creates coordination challenges, making both the screening of dogs entering the country and the enforcement of those screening standards difficult. As a result, imported dogs have, unfortunately, brought diseases like rabies, canine influenza, and leptospirosis into the country, threatening the health of our people, dogs, livestock, and food supply.

What to Know About the Healthy Dog Importation Act

The Healthy Dog Importation Act was introduced by Congressman Ralph Abraham, MD DVM, (R-LA), a veterinarian and medical doctor, to decrease the health risks that imported dogs will pose to dogs and people in the US. The bill would require that every dog entering the U.S. be in good health, have all necessary vaccinations verified by a certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian, and be permanently identified. Dogs entering the U.S. for resale, donation, or transfer must also be at least 6 months old and accompanied by an import permit issued by the USDA. Exceptions to those rules are provided for dogs that are imported for research purposes or veterinary treatment (so long as such treatment is to be paid for by the importer).

The legislation would also help streamline federal oversight, establishing APHIS as the key enforcement authority but also ensuring documentation and import permits are shared electronically between APHIS, CDC, and CBP. These proposed changes to the legislation are intended to strengthen the federal government’s oversight of import and screening of the large number of dogs entering the country each year and, as a result, decrease the risk of infectious disease outbreaks resulting from the importation of dogs.

Good Dog’s Position on the Healthy Dog Importation Act

Good Dog stands with the good forces in the dog world, such as the NAIA, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the American Kennel Club, all of which are committed to supporting animal welfare and safeguarding the rights of animals and the public, in supporting the introduction of the Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and commends Reps. Abraham, Schrader, and Yoho for sponsoring the bill.

Dr. John Howe, President of the AVMA, says the AVMA “commend[s] veterinarian Reps. Abraham, Schrader and Yoho, for introducing common-sense legislation that would establish health and vaccination requirements for dogs imported into the U.S. The Healthy Dog Importation Act protects animal and human health by ensuring that imported dogs are healthy and free from disease and parasites before entering the United States.”

Good Dog is on a mission to build a better world for our dogs, improve canine health for generations of dogs to come, and educate the public to help potential dog owners understand why the source of their dog is so important. To that end, Good Dog supports responsible screening of every dog that is imported into the U.S. each year to ensure such dogs are in good health and have received all necessary vaccinations. Data shows that if the demand for dogs in this country remains at its current rate, there is a real risk that we will run out of dogs and people wanting dogs will be unable to get them.

This real risk highlights the need for responsibly bred dogs and for dog breeders. We need to come together to support responsible sources to support dog breeders, and to protect this country’s population of dogs by having safe, smart, science-backed importation regulations to make sure any gap in supply and demand is not being filled irresponsibly and in a way that could threaten all our dogs.

The Healthy Dog Importation Act is intended to decrease the risk that imported dogs will introduce diseases that could and have negatively impacted the health of the country’s dogs, livestock, and people. Good Dog is grateful for the work of Reps. Abraham, Schrader, and Yoho in introducing the bill and looks forward to working alongside the good forces in the dog world to pass this legislation and ensure our dogs get the protection they deserve. And, we ask you to consider joining us…

What You Can Do to Help Pass The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020

Act now and urge your Congress member to support The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020! Click here to easily send a message to your U.S. Representative letting them know you support this legislation and that it will ensure that the federal government is providing effective oversight of the importation of dogs entering the U.S. to minimize the risk of known and novel infectious disease outbreaks.