The Centers for Disease Control announced a temporary ban on dogs imported to the U.S. from Egypt on Friday, citing multiple instances of dogs that contracted rabies in Egypt being brought to the U.S. in recent years.
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Officials say Americans’ appetite for adopting puppies has fueled what regulators call an international smuggling operation that skirts U.S. regulations.
"The motives behind illegal puppy importation are not immediately obvious. However, a closer look reveals a big business driven by profit at the expense of the health and welfare of the underage puppies," CDC says in a blog post.
"Importers aim to get around these regulations because customers demand puppies as young as 8-weeks. Profits decline by the thousands with each month a puppy ages. The puppy-loving public creating the demand is part of the problem."
CDC estimates 100,000 dogs are imported from countries at high-risk for rabies every year, some of the 1.06 million dogs that enter the country through airports or ports of entry according to the agency. Three rabid dogs have been imported to the U.S. from Egypt since 2015, some with falsified health paperwork.
Animal rescue organization throughout the U.S. have worked with groups in Egypt and other countries to re-home animals, but federal officials have become increasingly concerned about the accuracy of information provided from overseas. CDC and animal welfare groups say there's no single database to track what happens to dogs brought into the U.S. from Egypt once they're in the country.
In 2017, "Operation Dog Catcher" was launched after agents from Customs and Border Protection, CDC, and USDA veterinarians identified more frequent large shipments of puppies at JFK. The operation discovered smuggling operations where dogs from overseas "puppy mills" are shipped to the U.S. as rescue dogs valued at $0, then sold to the public online or on social media under false or misleading information claiming they were bred in the U.S.
The most recent recorded incident was in February of this year, according to CDC, when 26 dogs imported from Egypt were adopted or placed in foster homes through a rescue in the Kansas City area. One of the dogs bit a vet technician and tested positive for rabies.
The U.S. has been free of canine rabies since 2007, according to CDC, but the agency says even one imported dog with the virus could create a public health threat if they interact with people or other animals that go untreated.
"The importation of just one dog infected with CRVV risks the re-introduction of the virus into the United States," CDC says in a draft of it's public notice, which will be officially posted Friday.
CDC says it has worked with international health organizations to try to clear up the problem but that officials in Egypt have not provided enough information to guarantee the health of imported dogs. Imports will be suspended until the CDC and other federal agencies determine appropriate controls are in place in Egypt to prevent exports of rabid dogs.
While U.S. law says dogs coming into the U.S. have to be healthy and at least six months old, but Operation Dog Catcher found animals with fraudulent health documents and vaccination records. In addition to rabies, dogs can spread other diseases that can spread to humans and other animals, such as parasites or skin infections.
The CDC and animal advocacy groups say members of the public should research breeders and ask to visit facilities or see inspection reports, even though the full records are not publicly available online. CDC says that adopting from credible animal shelters in the U.S. also helps decrease demand for puppies sold through fraudulent operations.