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Planning to Import a Puppy? New CDC Guidelines Provide Insight on Confinement Agreements for Dogs from Rabies-Positive Countries

(Thursday, July 24, 2014)

On July 10, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new guidelines, effective August 11, that establish standard considerations for allowing the import of certain dogs from rabies-positive countries that have not been adequately immunized against the disease.

Current law, which has been in place for more than a decade and has not changed, requires that anyone wishing to import a dog from a country that is not considered to be rabies-free must provide a valid rabies vaccination certificate, certain health records, and be able to pass an inspection for communicable diseases.

Because rabies vaccines may be ineffective when administered to a puppy younger than 3 months of age, and it takes 30 days for full immune response from a vaccine, the youngest age at which a puppy may be imported from a rabies-positive country is generally considered to be 4 months.

In certain cases, the CDC may use its discretion to waive the requirement that an animal have a valid rabies certificate and “... authorize admission of dogs that have not been adequately immunized against rabies provided that the dogs are confined under conditions that restrict their contact with humans and other animals until they have been immunized.” (1) In these cases, a confinement agreement is signed by the importer/owner. The new guidelines point out that a confinement agreement process was established to assist individuals importing dogs as pets or personal use, not for commercial importers.

In recent years, the official forms for seeking a confinement agreement were available online through the CDC. This is no longer the case. People seeking a confinement agreement must now fill out the paperwork in person, at the port of entry.

In 2006, the CDC issued 2 confinement agreements. However, by 2012, requests for agreements had skyrocketed to 2,131 –with a significant portion of the requests being made by commercial importers. As the number of these discretionary agreements increased, enforcement became increasingly difficult and investigators found an increasing number of violations to the agreements. To ensure public health, this month’s new CDC Issuance and Enforcement Guidance for Dog Confinement Agreements establishes the following standard considerations for determining, case-by-case, whether the CDC will issue a confinement agreement to dog importers:

(1) The number of dogs presented for import must be consistent with the purposes of the dog confinement agreement;

(2) The frequency of dog imports must be consistent with the purposes of the dog confinement agreement;

(3) History of non-compliance with HHS/CDC-issued confinement agreements;

(4) Prevalence of rabies in country of origin (country where the dog has lived during the 6 months prior to arrival, or since birth if the dog is less than 6 months of age); and

(5) Other risk factors as determined by the CDC Director. HHS/CDC will evaluate each import based on the totality of the circumstances.

The guidance further states that if an importer is denied the opportunity to receive a confinement agreement, the denial will be issued in writing. “The letter of denial received will include reasons for denial as well as detailed instructions on whom to contact for questions, including name, address, and telephone number, as well as how to submit an appeal. Persons who wish to contest HHS/CDC's determination will have five business days after receiving the letter of denial. The importer must submit the appeal in writing to the CDC Director, stating the reasons for the appeal and showing that there is a genuine and substantial issue of fact in dispute. HHS/CDC will issue a written response, which shall constitute final agency action. The appeal will be reviewed and decided upon by an HHS/CDC senior management official who will be senior to the employee who issued the initial letter of denial.” (2)

For more information, visit the CDC’s animal imports website or contact CDCAnimalImports@cdc.gov

(1),(2) Federal Register, July 10, 2014, pp. 39403 – 6