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How the New CDC Guidelines Impact the Long-term Welfare of Dogs

Updated: May 10

The CDC released new information yesterday (May 8th, 2024) regarding new guidelines on dogs being imported into the United States, which includes guidelines on dog transportation/travel to and from the United States.


According to the CDC, these guidelines were put in place due to the increase in rabies cases in the United States, which has occurred due to irresponsible rescuing/sheltering operations and mills importing sick dogs from outside of country whom had rabies, as well as other problematic diseases. To fully read the full PDF, click here:


Starting on August 1, all dogs entering the U.S. (including those that left the U.S. and are returning, and regardless of the country they are coming from) must be:

• healthy upon arrival

• at least 6 months of age

• microchipped

• accompanied by a CDC Dog Import Form receipt and required vaccination and veterinary documents.


This not only implies that dogs can only be brought into the United States if they are over 6 months of age, but also that people can no longer travel with a dog younger than 6 months of age out of country, and then back, if the dog is not 6 months of age upon returning back to the United States. There are a lot of issues to unpack here, but let's go from what is the most concerning topic to me as a certified dog behavior consultant and an ethical breeder of border collies for performance/sport, to the least concerning topic, but still concerning nonetheless.


A continuing degradation of genetic diversity in dogs.

The importation of dogs over 6 months of age has a direct effect on the genetic diversity and welfare of dogs. All breeds rely on imports to the United States from low-risk for rabies countries, such as Canada and European countries. While this particularly hurts rare breeds, all breeds will be deeply effected by this. Breeders rely on importing healthy lines to improve the health, temperament, and "ability" of the breeds we are striving to make "better".


For those of you who aren't breeders, this is a huge deal because it is extremely difficult to import dogs over 6 months of age, due to cost for both keeping the dog presumably at their breeder's homes for a longer period of time (an extra 4 months is a very long time), and the travel cost of bringing back a larger dog whom, for many breeds, definitely now need to be flown in cargo. Because of the difficulty of importing starting on August 1st, there will be less genetic diversity in breeds within country.


For some breeds whom are already on the brink of extinction, whom are primarily brought in country to help preservation efforts - these new guidelines have the potential to lead to breeds ceasing to exist within country. Because these breeds need all the help they can get, this has a direct effect on causing the extinction of breeds out of country.


For breeds such as border collies, which are not a preservation breed, this is still an issue because we can not increase our genetic diversity within country to help increase workability, and improve health and temperament. Within my breed, puppies (well under 6 months of age) are consistently being brought in by ethical breeders as working and sport prospects, whom then continue on to be bred (so long as they pass health/disorder testing) and improve on the overall stock we have in this country.


Throughout history, we have seen a lack of genetic diversity directly impact breeds. One of the largest contributors to a lack of genetic diversity has been through closed stud books, which has led to the demise of so many breeds. The best example I can give of this is with Dobermans, which suffered tremendously due to closed stud books. In a way to try and fix these issues, great projects such as the Doberman Diversity Project have formed as a way to preserve the breed. The only way to help all breeds is to continue allowing for genetic diversity to flourish, and these guidelines directly hurt genetic diversity.


A continuing degradation of behavioral issues within the dogs in country.

This is something that personally speaks to me as someone who works with behavior cases day in and day out, as a behavior consultant. The critical period of socialization occurs well before a dog turns 6 months of age. The critical period of socialization, or a period of time where a puppy must be exposed (positively) to stimuli and environments in order to have the best chance of being behaviorally stable later in life, ends between 12-16 weeks of age, which is 3-4 months of age. By not allowing the puppy buyer to go through this process with their puppy is detrimental to their long term behavioral welfare, as we can not expect for the breeders we are importing dogs from to do everything a puppy needs for socialization within the critical period of socialization and beyond. It simply is not possible at the potential scale that would need to be done at, with a lot of dogs being potentially kept back until 6 months of age, whom all need individual attention, training, and socialization.


Because it is impossible for breeders to give entire litters individual attention, training, and socialization for an extra 4 months, the puppies who are imported in after 6 months of age have a chance of developing behavioral problems, or at best, potentially will not be the version of themselves that they could have been if they were imported at a younger age. These are puppies who now need to learn the "rules" of society within country at an age where a lot of their brain for socialization purposes are already solidified. These puppies can not be truly set up for success within American society due to these guidelines, in a way a younger puppy can be.


My puppies are appropriately socialized throughout the critical period of socialization in a way that makes sense for my life, and the life the puppies will be living with me long term. That means a lot of time spent in the car, a lot of exposure to hiking (within safe distances and terrains for a young growing puppy), exposure to dog sport events, as well as exposure to the dog-friendly places dogs are allowed. A puppy coming in at 6 months would have missed out on 3-4 months of this, as well as the entirety of the critical period (which is when I usually do a lot of this). While, yes, some dogs within some 'more optimistic breeds' can still 'be socialized' after 6 months of age, for a lot of dogs within more sensitive breeds (which is a lot of them), this can be detrimental for them; therefore, going back to genetic diversity, detrimental to genetic diversity IF these dogs can now not be used within programs when they have been fully health/disorder tested and functionally tested.


An increase in money spent to travel with dogs out of country, which effects both sport dogs and pet dogs.

This also has a direct effect on both people who do sports with their dogs, as well as people who simply want to travel with their dogs. Starting August 1st, according to the guidelines, we now also can not travel outside of the USA with our own personal dogs under 6 months of age, because they are not legally able to re-enter until they are 6 months old. For example, if I had a under 6 month old puppy and wanted to go to Canada that dog would have to be left in Canada until they were 6 months old to return back to the states. Again, as someone who tends to travel with my puppies when they are young for socialization purposes, since they will be traveling a lot throughout the span of their lives for both vacation and for dog sporting events - this is a problem.


This is also a huge issue for people who consistently cross the Canadian border for dog sport events, veterinary services, and vacation. Now in order to cross the border into Canada, similar to how it works with European countries, people need to get a pet health certificate to cross into the country, and then import the dog back into the states when they return back. This means dog owners now have an added expense of a vet visit and the cost of the health certificate in order to cross country borders. For people who consistently go back and fourth across the border, this leads to a lot of unnecessary fees in order to do what they have been safely been doing for years.


How can we fix this issue without harming the long term welfare of dogs?

So how do we fix this problem? First thing's first, we can help support petitions to try and change the new guidelines, such as supporting this petition here.


Next, we can fix the core problems instead of making sweeping overall change. Sweeping overall change (such as the current guidelines that begin August 1st, 2024) which will most likely not effectively help the issues, and will unfortunately just make things a whole lot worse. As many have stated, this feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the rescues and shelters who have been falsifying documents for years in order to bring in sick animals for the purpose of "saving" them, as well as the mill operations who consistently bring in sick animals because they simply do not care about the animals being sick, and will do anything to make money. The answer to a lot of these problems are simple, but because they tend to ramp up emotions, they have not been fixed.


Shelters/Rescues: put laws and regulations in place that do not allow them to bring in animals from countries and territories that are high risk of rabies AND other diseases. While rabies is an issue, the other diseases are too, and should not be swept under the bus because these guidelines focus on rabies. If we want to fix this issue with regards to disease, this needs to happen for the welfare of our dogs as well as people within country.


If you want to help dogs in other countries, for example island dogs where the canine population numbers are understandably getting out of hand, create spay and neuter campaigns for these islands. If more dogs were fixed in these areas, less dogs will need homes and vet care, which would cause less of an influx of these dogs within the states. The answer does not need to be importation. I would be incredibly impressed if rescues and shelters (whom are more financially well off and CAN help in this way - I am very clearly aware of the lack of funds a lot of rescues and shelters deal with) dropped everything, stopped caring about adoption numbers, and went to actually go HELP dogs and solve the issues that these countries have. Consistently importing dogs is not the answer, just like the answer to the puppy mill crisis is NOT having mill rescue operations in play without shutting down the mills. Consistently importing dogs does not lead to less dogs on the islands, as the island dogs will consistently repopulate. Fixing the actual issues is the only way to help the welfare of these dogs, and the people who are directly affected by the number of dogs in these places.


Puppy Mills: This one is so simple, it frankly hurts. Stop allowing for dogs to be sold commercially, full stop. As a behavior consultant, I rarely see behaviorally normal or healthy dogs come out of pet stores or back yard breeding operations, because these mills/bybs aren't breeding with the intent in helping/preserving breeds - they just simply want to make money. Everyone knows this, and yet little to nothing is done about it. Don't allow for these operations to bring in unhealthy dogs from out of country to flip a profit, don't allow them to sell dogs by putting laws in place that force them to shut down.


We as a country NEED focused intervention in order to help the welfare of animals, and focusing that attention on shelters/rescues and mills is a great place to start. The answer is NOT making it more difficult for ethical breeders and dog sport competitors to import dogs for the overall benefit of their chosen breeds. The answer is NOT making the lives of the puppies imported after 6 months harder because they have missed critical socialization opportunities. The answer is NOT emptying the pockets of Americans who simply want to, and sometimes have to, travel out of country with their dogs. The answer is clear, and can be focused on the actual issues at hand.


And for all of us whom are effected by this, sign the petitions, make it clear what the issues actually are and what they are not. Change potentially can happen if we ourselves as a community focus on the real issues, and make it clear to the powers that be what they are. At the end of the day, we need to at least try.

_________________________

Edited/Additional Information added below 5.10.2024


I’ve posted this blog on several groups where I wanted to seek out the opinion of individuals who are directly affected (and not directly affected) by these new guidelines, in order to make more points both against and for the new guidelines. Throughout the next few days I will be posting thoughts/opinions across the board regarding this topic, as I feel it is important for everyone’s voices to be heard.


  • In general, most people agree (myself included) that public health and safety are important, and therefore, it’s important for regulations to be put in place. However, most people also agree that these guidelines are harsh and go beyond the scope of what potentially would still be effective with public health and safety in mind, while still maintaining what is best for dogs in regards to genetic diversity, early socialization, as well as not further hurting the pockets of dog enthusiasts/dog sport competitors whom travel across the Canadian border in particular for events (by imposing costs for health certificates etc).

  • Additionally, most people agree that guidelines should be enforced to mitigate the problems that retail rescue and back yard breeding operations have placed on our society, but also feel that these guidelines hurt the good work that breeders and individuals do for dogs, and that the cons outweigh the pros.


A Compromise

Many individuals have proposed a compromise of changing the guidelines to allowing the importing of puppies at 4 months of age whom are fully vaccinated (puppies can receive full rounds of core vaccines by this age), instead of the current guidelines, which state that a puppy would need to be 6 months of age (and fully vaxxed) in order to import. By changing the age to 4 months, yes, the critical period of socialization would be “missed” but there would still be a lot of positives, which far outweigh the cons of waiting until 6 months of age to import a puppy.


The benefits of changing the guidelines from 6 months to 4 months include:

  • Lessening the socialization issues (described above) by allowing ethical breeders and individuals to socialize their puppies at 4 months of age;therefore, not allowing these puppies to miss out on 2 additional months of necessary socialization to become functional (and well behaved) members of society. This both helps negate the genetic diversity problem (as it’s less of a problem to import a 6 month old puppy compared to a 4 month old puppy due to the issues listed in the post above) and the behavioral issues concern.

  • Lessening the upkeep for breeders, whom, with the current guidelines in place, would need to house puppies an additional 4 months. For breeders who are doing everything “right” in terms of socialization, exposure, and enrichment, an additional 4 months of housing (and essentially board & training) puppies can be detrimental to that breeder’s well being, as well as the puppies’ well-being. Our personal last litter comprised of 7 puppies - I can say affirmatively that if I needed to care for these pups an additional 4 months, I would need to quit my job to give them everything they would need to be successful in their future homes (in the manner that I already do for the 9-10 weeks they are with me). It is a very difficult ask of breeders, and changing the guidelines to 4 months would really help breeders!

  • Maintaining public health. According to the CDC, these guidelines were put in place to maintain public health, and prevent issues from happening - which I think we can all agree with and appreciate. Puppies can be fully vaxxed by 4 months of age, which maintains public health in the same way a 6 month old puppy whom is fully vaxxed would be safe for the public. As many people have stated, we’ve had it pretty ‘easy’ in the states for a long time in regards to importing young puppies whom are not fully vaxxed, in a way other countries have not been able to. However, many of these countries impose a 4 month old guideline for public safety reasons - which is what our suggested compromise is.


There is still a discussion to be had on how to mitigate the additional cost issue for people (in regards to border issues for dog sport events, veterinary care, etc), and I truthfully don’t have ideas there yet, and haven’t seen a lot of thoughts on how to mitigate these issues with the guidelines, but will be continuing to add to this post as the conversations continue.


Michelle Belio CDBC



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