300,000 Imported Puppies Prompt Rabies Concerns

The CDC is developing new rules for puppy imports because of new rabies cases.

ByABC News
October 23, 2007, 3:12 PM

Oct. 24, 2007 — -- Just last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared victory over canine rabies in the United States -- a fatal virus that kills 55,000 people a year globally.

That declaration may have been premature.

A growing demand for overseas dogs -- many from countries where the disease is endemic and the animals are too young to be vaccinated -- has put rabies back on the government's radar and caused the CDC to go to work on stricter rules aimed at imported dogs.

As many as 300,000 puppies a year are being imported, based on early estimates, according to G. Gale Galland, veternarian in the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarentine.

Driving the import trend is the demand for puppies, rather than older dogs that have behavioral or health issues.

The Border Puppy Task Force in California estimates that 10,000 puppies entered San Diego County from Mexico in just one year. Some only a few weeks old are sold for $1,000 each in shopping center parking lots on the street.

"Most people don't think about this deadly disease," said Dr. Nina Marano, director of the regulatory unit at the CDC. "People take for granted that their dogs are not at risk."

Just this spring, a puppy from India got a clean bill of health from officials at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. Days later, at its destination in Alaska, the dog was diagnosed with rabies, according to Washington's Veterinary Board of Governors, which is investigating the case.

In 2004, Los Angeles saw its first case of rabies in 30 years with a puppy imported from Mexico. In Massachusetts, a dog imported from Puerto Rico -- a U.S. territory where stray dogs are rampant -- was diagnosed with the disease.