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Door slammed on rescuing dogs from 100 high-risk countries

The order is necessary to keep dog rabies out of the country, Canadian Food Inspection Agency says

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Eat Sept. 28, World Rabies Day, rescue dogs from more than 100 countries will no longer be allowed into Canada, a move called draconian by some and a necessary evil by others.

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the ban is necessary to reduce the risk of dog rabies getting into Canada after two dogs from Iran were found to be infected last year, one not demonstrating symptoms until six months after arriving.

But the ban, a Vancouver animal lawyer fears, could have negative repercussions.

The agency “acted with haste,” Victoria Shroff said. “There will be an unintended consequence, I think, that could flow from this.”

She predicts domestic puppy mills will pump up production to fill the void when the supply of available dogs drops.

The ban applies to dogs from pretty much anywhere in Africa, many Latin American and Caribbean countries, much of Asia and the Middle East, and parts of eastern Europe, including war-ravaged Ukraine.

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The ban applies to “commercial” dogs, which includes dogs up for adoption and fostering. It does not apply to dogs moving or returning to Canada with their owners.

“The importation of even one rabid dog could result in transmission to humans, pets, and wildlife,” agency announced. “If a person is exposed, they need to undergo serious medical treatment.

“Dog rabies kills 59,000 people every year globally in over 100 countries that are considered to be at high-risk for dog rabies.”

Animal Justice, a national group of lawyers advocating animal-protection legislation and prosecution of animal abusers, said the move is a “huge shock” and devastating to rescue volunteers in Canada and in impoverished countries abroad.

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Canadian dog-rescue operations were not consulted before the announcement, lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said by phone.

“Canada is has been a real lifeline for a lot of dogs around the world that aren’t as fortunate as dogs in Canada,” Labchuk said. “They’re living on the streets, dodging traffic, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

“Preventing rabies is extremely important, no one would disagree with that. It’s just that this ban goes from zero to 100 without any appropriate exemptions for dogs who are coming into Canada for adoption or for humanitarian reasons.”

The policy is especially heartbreaking for dogs in war-torn countries such as Ukraine and Afghanistan, she said.

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“And for dogs in countries like the Philippines and China, where rescuers are saving animals from the meat trade. Shockingly, the CFIA has offered no exceptions to the prohibition.”

Postmedia reached out to the federal agency, inquiring whether exemptions for dogs imported for adoption had been considered, and if so why there is no exemption. Or if an exemption was not considered, why not?

The agency did not respond by publication time, but a Vancouver veterinarian said such exemptions would be unworkable.

“The short answer is no,” Dr. Christiane Armstrong said. “How do you safely do it? Where do you quarantine? For how long? There are so many nuances involved, it becomes untenable.

“How does the government adequately regulate and evaluate each organization and each shipment of animals coming in? It is impossible.”

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Armstrong sits on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s national issues committee, and the association backs the bans. She “absolutely” feels for dogs stranded in war-torn countries or in danger of appearing on the menu, but the Canadian public’s health (and that of their pets) trumps emotions, she said.

“We don’t want more (rabies) variants. You have to look at the risk/benefit.”

The federal agency’s list of high-risk countries will be reviewed regularly and subject to change, according to the agency’s website.

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre


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