Ban on dogs coming into Canada due to rabies concerns sparks debate

Some animal rescue groups fear countless dogs will die of starvation or be killed if they are not allowed entry into Canada as a result of a recently announced policy. 

This week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that starting on Sept. 28 – which is also World Rabies day -- it will be blocking commercial dogs from entering the country. A commercial dog is defined as one for resale, adoption, fostering, breeding, show or exhibition, research and other purposes.

The agency listed more than 100 countries which have been deemed high risk of canine rabies.

Vancouver resident Jenni Baynham and her sister, a pilot living in Qatar, founded Fur Bae Dog Rescue four years ago. They help bring dogs from the Middle East to Canada, in addition to helping rescue dogs domestically.

Bayham worries what the implications will be for dogs needing a second chance.

“Some of the shelters we work with in the Middle East can hold around 200 dogs. If they can't take in any more dogs, those dogs are getting hit by cars, they're starving to death. There's a lot of cruelty that goes on with people just shooting dogs or trying to run them over with their cars,” she said.

The non-profit jumps ensures dogs are vaccinated, microchipped, spayed or neutered before boarding a plane, she told CTV News

“We protect ourselves and our dogs against [rabies] by immunization. So to pretend that this is about rabies was infuriating for those of us in the rescue industry,” Baynham said.

The CFIA maintains the new measure will go to protecting the health and safety of humans and pets.

“The CFIA has consulted with public health authorities regarding the human health risk and it has been determined to be significant enough to warrant the implementation of a measure that prevents the introduction of the rabies caused by dog rabies to Canada,” an agency spokesperson wrote in a statement.

“With commercial dog imports having increased by 400 per cent in recent years, the introduction of dog rabies poses a serious health risk to Canadians and their pets. While the rabies vaccine is very effective in preventing rabies in dogs, it does not guarantee protection unless the dog is adequately and regularly vaccinated,” the email continued.

MOVE APPROVED BY VETERINARIAN

The news comes amid a push already underway to better regulate the animal rescue industry.

In the past year, there have been two cases of canine rabies in Ontario. There was also a case of brucellosis from a rescue dog in Vancouver recently.

Dr. Adrian Walton, a veterinarian at Dewdney Animal Hospital, said he supports the CFIA’s decision. Not only have their been instances where vaccination documents have been falsified, he says, but sometimes vaccination alone can't prevent the disease.

“If you're in a country where canine rabies is endemic, there's no way to prevent that from coming into this country with rabies, even if you vaccinate,” he said. “It could already be rabid, and it can take up to a month to six months before his animal will start showing clinical signs.”

Dr. Walton said by then, it will be too late for the human.

“Unfortunately, that means a death sentence to whoever is infected with rabies,” he said.

“Nobody wants to stop rescued animals from overseas coming in. What we want to do is we want to come up with a way that they can come in safely into the country.”

ANIMAL WELFARE GROUP SUPPORTS BAN

Animal welfare group, Paws for Hope, also agree the new measure will be a step in the right direction.

Kathy Powelson said she has been calling for greater oversight of the industry because there have been some questionable rescue practices.

“If rescues were practicing responsibly, and doing all the necessary health checks, health protocols and quarantine prior to the animal coming into the country, as well as quarantine, when landing in the country, before going up for adoption or sale, I don't believe this would it be necessary,” she said.

She said since COVID-19 restrictions have eased, shelters are filled with animals looking for homes and it isn’t necessary to adopt from overseas.

She said people can still help animals overseas by supporting the organizations that are on the ground.

“We want spay and neuter programs. We want mass vaccination and rabies programs in those communities. And we want to work with community members to address why there is such a massive dog overpopulation or mistreatment problem. Simply just transporting them out of country is not solving the problem -- it is such a band aid solution,” she said.

CALLS FOR EXEMPTIONS

The United States Centers for Disease Control brought in a similar ban last summer.

Three weeks ago, it amended the policy to include exemptions and now welcomes dogs from high-risk countries as long as they meet certain vaccination and quarantine criteria. 

Camille Labchuk, lawyer and founder of Animal Justice, would like to see similar exemptions in Canada for rescue organizations and for humanitarian efforts.

“It can be addressed through testing, it can be addressed through quarantines and other measures that I know rescues are all too happy to comply with. So, what's puzzling is the CFIA hasn't done the work to consult with rescues and find solutions,” said Labchuk.

She launched a petition in support of this, which she said has already garnered more than 12,000 signatures. 

Since the measure isn't coming into effect for another couple of months,she also vowed not to stop fighting on behalf of the animals.

"We are working with the dog rescue community and we'll be actively reaching out to the CFIA to see what can be done to make sure that dogs don't pay the price for this effort," she said.


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