The Impact of Importing Dogs

It's become quite popular in many areas to move dogs from one shelter to another in the hopes that they will have a better chance to be adopted.  The original idea of shelter transfers was a good one, I believe, when done right.  In my opinion, doing it right means that shelters and rescues are helping one another to better serve their communities by trading animals, giving long time shelter residents new exposure in a new location or transferring a dog with special needs (health or behavioral) to an organization with the resources to meet those needs.

Sadly, this original idea has morphed into something very different.  Under the guise of the no-kill movement, animals are being shipped by the hundreds on a very frequent basis from large, over-populated shelters to shelters that really are not offering anything more for the dog than a longer stay.  It's not that the shelters they're going to have a surplus of empty space, but rather that they are using space that would be occupied by local dogs to accomodate out of state dogs.

For instance, in the Portland, OR area there are hundreds of rescues and shelters.  Only one is an open admission shelter that takes in ALL strays, legal cases and such.  In the past, these selective admission rescues and shelters have been able to take the overflow and special needs dogs from the open admission shelter to prevent euthanasia and to give dogs more exposure, foster homes and alternative opportunites like a daycare/shelter environment.  In addition, other open admission shelters outside the city would do transfers with the county shelter in order to give long-term residents a new audience.  Truly, a beautiful network to support local homeless dogs.

Apparently, things were going so well for Portland dogs that the no-kill folks decided to look outside the state at dogs who were being euthanized in large numbers.  Believe me, my heart breaks for them, too.  So began the practice of loading up 50 - 100 dogs or more at a time and driving them from CA to OR, among other places.  The Oregon Humane Society has reported doing this on a weekly basis for quite some time now.  What started as a life-saving mission, however, has become more of a marketing plan and is having a grave impact on local dogs.

You see, for every dog that comes from CA, there is a lost kennel or foster home for the dogs coming into the open admission shelters.  Additionally, dogs being imported are not all healthy, behaviorally stable dogs.  Some are scheduled to be euthanized for good reason, not simply to create space.  Meanwhile, the shelters in CA that are sending out these dogs are not required to have a plan for improving their own situation in order to curb the inflow.  It seems that sending them out of state IS the plan.  They are not vetting the rescue organizations that they allow to take their dogs, as was proven with the horrible case of the Willamette Animal Rescue.

Local rescues claim that the people of Portland prefer small dogs and there just aren't enough of them in the shelter system.  They say that if the shelters don't provide what the public wants, they are afraid the public will instead buy their dogs from a breeder.  I can't wrap my head around this logic.  It would seem to me that if we've wiped out homeless small dogs in our area, we have succeeded.  Now let's work on our big dogs and educate the public on how to choose a responsible breeder if they want a smaller dog.  Instead, many shelters and rescues are becoming nothing more than brokers and pet stores, working on a supply and demand model.  Afterall, where do they think those imported dogs are coming from if not puppy mills and backyard breeders?

Wouldn't total success in the shelter/rescue world be for MOST dog owners to get their dogs from reputable breeders?  What is the end goal here?  

There's much more to discuss regarding this issue, but the important thing to me is to get the word out to the general public, as they are not fully aware of what's going on.  I don't think they know that there are hundreds of dogs being imported every month.  I don't think they know that many of the dogs being imported have serious behavioral and/or health issues.  I know that they are not aware that for every space taken by an imported dog, a local dog has lost an opportunity.

Oh, and guess what is now cycling through the open admission shelters?  Yep.  Little dogs from CA.

A colleague who has been doing rescue for decades in my area wrote the following letter to the Governor of CA.  I think it's time we all start talking about this issue openly.


Dear Governor Brown,

I'm writing to you on behalf of the dogs and cats of Oregon, and the dogs and cats of California.

On January 13, in Brooks, Oregon - just a few miles north of our capital city of Salem - the Marion County Sheriff's Office and staff from the Willamette and Oregon humane societies seized over 130 dogs that were stashed in crates in a 7500 sq. ft. warehouse. The dogs were without adequate space, water, or food; and they were in need of medical care.

Why I'm telling you about this? Well, because the majority of those dogs came from the Porterville, California animal shelter.

Why were they found in a warehouse in Oregon? Because California's shelters are so overfull of dogs that your shelters are sending them by the truckloads up to Oregon and Washington - to rescues they know nothing about.

On behalf of the reputable, responsible rescues in Oregon and Washington, I am embarrassed and ashamed that this situation developed. Rescues and shelters up here are stepping up to help these dogs; and we'll make it right. We don't like that this happened and I'm pretty sure that the fallout from this will contribute to making some changes in how rescues in this state operate.

But, more to the point, over the last several years we have become increasingly concerned about the numbers of dogs that your shelters are shipping out of state. We're concerned because your counties appear to be doing nothing to stem the flow of dog production that is causing this situation. We're concerned because the dogs are being dumped all over the country with little to no review or evaluation of the shelters and rescues to which they're being sent. We're concerned because they are leaving your state in poor health: full of ticks and fleas, intestinal parasites such as giardia and coccidia, and infected with heartworm, parvo, and distemper; they are dogs who have sat in shelters for weeks with untreated injuries ranging from severe scrapes and abrasions to broken legs. We're concerned because nobody is monitoring the transports as dogs are packed in crates and stuffed into unheated, unventilated vans and driven 16 to 20 hours with no water or potty breaks or food, by uncertified drivers. We're concerned because the dogs (and cats) arrive dehydrated, ill, un-spayed or -neutered, and carrying new strains of diseases that weren't previously present up here. And we're concerned because as small, local rescues and shelters we know that we barely have enough space and resources to help Oregon and Washington dogs let alone the thousands you send out of state each year.

What we don't understand is why the folks in California are doing virtually nothing to clean up your problem - instead you seem to be perfectly content to continue shipping dogs to every part of the country: New England, the Mid-West, Canada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington; you name the state or the province, and they've likely had several shipments of dogs from California's major Central and San Joaquin valley shelters: Merced, Modesto, Salinas, Devore, Bakersfield/Kern County, Porterville/Tulare County, Orange County, and Los Angeles (including Lancaster). The word is out that these are now some of the highest "kill" shelters in the country. And the dogs don't die easy: Often they're finally killed only after they've developed pneumonia, or any one of several other respiratory diseases constantly present in the shelters. Being born in or put into these and a number of other California shelters is a certain death sentence - and that's why other states are ending up with California's unwanted dogs and cats.

Do you have any idea of the mental toll taken on shelter staff when day after day they have to kill frightened, loving animals because the people who should have been responsible for them shirked that responsibility? Weekly - sometimes even daily, the shelter workers in California have to kill dogs they've come to know - they've seen them arrive at the shelter bewildered and terrified - unable to understand how they ended up in this place that reeks of illness and death. 

So the shelters, and the rescue workers in California have been happy and relieved to find that there are places to send these dogs, and people to help them. The citizens of California have failed in their responsibility but someone else has stepped up. And they don't question too much, the good luck of the dogs - they're just grateful that when they send 60, or 70, or 80+ dogs out the doors, it means they have that many fewer euthanizations to perform that week. Unfortunately taking all of these animals from your shelters and finding them forever homes isn't always the fairytale ending that we'd like to see. I've no doubt that some of these folks who take 60, or 70, or 80 dogs at a time mean well - it's hard to turn your back on a dog shaking in the back corner of a kennel - knowing that by leaving it you're committing it to certain death.

Unfortunately, hearts are larger than resources - and messes like the one in Brooks happen. As one rescuer commented: "I really wonder when the people of California will pull their heads out of [the sand] and do something about pet overpopulation. The Orange County shelter alone serves a population of over 4 million people; it's ludicrous. Oregon and Washington - we have our own's heartbreaking and it's sad and it wrenches my gut that in my house tonight I have two senior boxer boxer/mixes who were "saved" from California...NOT. Lucky them, they found their way to my house and will be rehabbed and adopted...for those that have died, still not safe, I honestly lose sleep and am an emotional wreck because of the naivete of all of us who thought "everything would be all right."

Governor Brown: California has a mess, and you all need to get your act together and clean it up instead of allowing someone else to do it for you. Because, the emotional and financial resources for the people who have been helping are dwindling quickly. We can't help you much longer - we can barely take care of our own.

Linda Watkins

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