Should you consider an imported rescue dog?

Holidays4Dogs has written on the subject of imported rescue dogs in the past (Feb 2017 – see below), but three years on, veterinary and welfare experts are concerned about some aspects of re-homing dogs that have been brought to the UK from abroad.  Holidays4Dogs revisits the subject of imported rescue dogs and provides some further information for would-be adopters.

Concern amongst professionals and experts in animal welfare has risen along with the rise in numbers of imported dogs.  According to DEFRA figures for imported dogs rose six years in a row with 307,357 dogs coming into the UK in 2018 – up from 287,016 in the previous year.

Dogs are generally imported to Britain under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) and while there are reputable charities that operate international re-homing of dogs (more frequently under the BALAI directive), there are still an alarming number of people who are using the PETS scheme to illegally import puppies for commercial gain. (It is illegal to import dogs using the PETS legislation, if the intention is to sell the animals on).  Both pieces of legislation regarding the import of animals are directed at protecting human health and therefore have no provision for the prevention of exotic diseases that could be fatal to animals and alarmingly, could also be zoonotic (pass from animal to human).

In November 2019 the British Veterinary Association urged political parties to make provisions for mandatory health screening for dogs brought into the UK. Their major concern regarding imported rescue dogs is that they could have unknown health histories which could be a risk to both animal and human health.  In particular, members of the BVA were concerned about leishmaniasis, (which is a zoonotic disease), as well as other conditions such as ehrlichiosis, (a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks), hepatozoonosis (a canine disease that can only be managed, not cured) and heartworm.

Many UK welfare charities such as the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dog’s Home are against the practice of international re-homing not least because it poses the risk of importing diseases which are not currently found in the UK.

In addition, Battersea Dog’s Home claim that a significant number of dogs handed in because things haven’t worked out, were originally adopted from overseas.  This puts extra pressure on welfare charities who already find it difficult to re-home dogs that originate from the UK.

Many dogs taken from abroad have far more behavioural issues which encourage adopters to subsequently give up their dogs to UK charities, such as Battersea.  Dogs from abroad often come from very different cultural backgrounds – i.e. they are raised and treated differently.  Many dogs live on the streets or free-range, many more suffer abuse and may well not have been socialised – most certainly not in a way that is likely to help them live in a domestic UK home.  This can lead to issues such as straying, aggression, barking, and separation anxiety.  On top of the stress of travelling and having to fit into a very different lifestyle, it is often too much for many overseas rescue dogs to cope with and can be very challenging for new owners to get them settle.

The EU Dog and Cat Alliance (of which Dogs Trust is a member) want to see an end to international re-homing of dogs.  They say that 81,000 dogs in the UK are abandoned every year and this is already more than enough for rescue charities to cope with.

It is easy to see why people do gravitate to adopting dogs from abroad.  One of the reasons given for this by experts is that re-homing procedures are sometimes too stringent in UK rescue centres, which encourages people to adopt dogs from smaller charities that often have more liberal views on re-homing.  Many celebrities have also fuelled the trend for international dog adoption and while on the one hand, animal welfare should be regarded as an international subject as it raises issues as they occur the world over – on the other, it could be said there is only so much one can do.  Many experts believe that money which goes to adopting dogs into the UK would be better spent on education and neutering initiatives in their country of origin.  What do you think?  Have you rescued a dog from abroad and how did your new dog settle into their new UK life?

Should we be adopting imported rescue dogs?