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Today, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced a measure to require that all dogs imported into the U.S. meet minimum health standards as demonstrated in a health certificate issued by a recognized veterinary authority in the country of origin. The Senate Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2021 joins companion measure HR 4239 introduced in the House in late June.

“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Senators Grassley and Smith, whose prescient and common-sense actions today can protect U.S. public and animal health and avoid a preventable tragedy in the future,” said Sheila Goffe, Vice President, Government Relations for the American Kennel Club. “No responsible person wants to bring an unhealthy and contagious dog into the country. By requiring all canine imports  — from show dogs to rescue pets — to have a valid and verifiable health certification, the Healthy Dog Importation Act brings U.S. standards into line with most other countries and demonstrates U.S. commitment to responsible care and healthy environments for dogs  — and those who love them.”

“Maintaining animal health is critical to our nation’s overall public health goals. It’s important that we work to stop the spread of diseases that can hurt both animals and humans,” Grassley said. “This commonsense proposal will expand an already existing program to ensure that all dogs entering the country are healthy and not at risk of spreading dangerous diseases.”

“COVID-19 is a devastating example of why the Healthy Dog Importation Act is so important. The pandemic showed us that human and animal health are inextricably linked, and that we must take proactive steps to prevent future health emergencies,” Smith said. “Mitigating the spread of foreign diseases in dogs will help keep domestic and wild animals healthy. It could also help prevent illnesses and disease outbreaks in people. I’m going to work to move this bipartisan bill forward with Sen. Grassley.”

The measure is a crucial response to potential public health crisis that’s been brewing for several years.

Currently, the U.S. demand for pet dogs annually exceeds an estimated 8 million dogs per year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that up to 1.245 million dogs are imported into the U.S. each year, many of which enter with invalid or fraudulent health certificates. Inadequate resources for oversight combined with exponential growth in canine imports from a wide range of overseas sources has resulted in recent incidents of dogs with non-native parasites and zoonotic diseases such as rabies, viral infections, canine influenza, brucellosis and others being imported and passed into the general public.

Policy to address this issue is seeing a groundswell of support following a number of recent incidents highlighting actions by irresponsible players in the dog rescue industry.

After the import of a rabid rescue dog from Azerbaijan earlier this year, the CDC implemented a ban in mid- July on the import of dogs from 110 countries at high risk for canine rabies, a variant of the deadly disease that was eliminated in the U.S. in 2007. This follows a 2019 import ban on dogs from Egypt, after multiple incidents of rescues dogs imported from that country were also found to be rabid.

Last week, the U.S. House approved an additional $1 million in funding in the “minibus” FY 2022 appropriations bill for improved oversight of canine imports and crucial inter-agency coordination, while the Labor-HHS Appropriators added support to improve inspections and streamline CDC operations for canine imports in their bill.

Combined with appropriate funding, the 2021 Healthy Dog importation Act offers a long-term solution to the issue of unhealthy dog imports. It does not ban dogs from any specific country, but instead requires that all dogs imported into the U.S. submit a valid health certificates from a recognized veterinary authority, be permanently identified and checked upon entry.