300,000 Imported Puppies Prompt Rabies Concerns

Strict Protocols

Shelter Inc. of Sterling, Mass., accepts two or three Puerto Rican dogs a month for adoption. The shelter also takes local animal control surrenders and seeks out dogs who need homes from states like Tennessee and Virginia.

"We have much higher protocols than picking them off the street and throwing them on a plane," said director Leigh Grady, who even took in a puppy from Thailand after the 2004 tsunami.

"That dog had books of medical history," she said. "He had a better medical passport that I did."

The shelter charges $350 for puppies, a fee that covers the costs associated with transportation and medical care. The shelter also carefully screens its adoptive families.

"Everyone wants to help, especially if they can save an animal that was abused," said Grady. "They went the breeder and pet store route and they want to do the right thing."

Meanwhile, the CDC said it is not opposed to importing animals, rather it hopes stricter regulations -- now in review and expected to take effect next year -- will continue to do what it has hailed as one of the greatest public health successes of the last half century -- eliminating canine rabies.

"If animals are being imported responsibly, that's OK with us," said Marano.

Still, she said, about working with shelters and rescue operations, "Let the buyer beware."

"It is safe in the U.S. because we work very hard to keep rabies out," said Marano, a practicing veterinarian. "But you always have to be careful. Pick the brightest puppy in the bunch and not the runt -- the one that looks healthy and has a good disposition, and some sort of health certificate from the pound."

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