Massachusetts veterinarians report seeing an increasing number of dogs with serious infectious diseases not typically found in New England, a phenomenon they say is probably fueled by a growing number of pets rescued from Southern states, many of them unvaccinated strays.
Massachusetts has long been a magnet for out-of-state rescue agencies and puppy farms with substandard health practices because the state’s strong spay and neutering campaigns have slashed the number of puppies born locally. But the number of imports grew after Katrina.
Most of the imports, Cahill said, are coming from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
“When rescue, which is not just a noble effort but a necessary endeavor, is done responsibly, it’s a good thing,’’ Cahill said. “But when it’s not, it’s not just detrimental to the animals you are trying to help but to the resident animals who are exposed and are harmed.’’
The last comments are particularly important. While we're not keen on the idea of one state subsidizing the irresponsibility of another, and are well-aware of the health risks involved with irresponsible pet transport, it is merely a tool like any other, and can be used for constructive or destructive purposes. Humane relocation in and of itself is not a bad thing. If handled responsibly, pet transport can be an incredibly valuable resource for saving lives -- especially during times of disaster. But used irresponsibly, it distorts pet population numbers, spreads disease and heartache (and heartworm!), and preserves the status quo rather than dealing with long-term shelter problems.
To be fair, this is not just a "Southern Problem." The door swings both ways; states that are able to handle humane relocation are often able to do so because of unreasonable regulations and attitudes that have shut reputable breeders down or chased them out of state -- these regions are actually facing a puppy shortage (especially the Northeast), and would not be able to fill their shelters without an influx of out-of-state dogs. In fact, I have no doubt that there are a few Northeastern shelters that would literally have to shut down if they didn't regularly receive puppies from out-of-state -- yet these are oftentimes the places shouting loudest about pet overpopulation, and pushing ever more restrictive laws on animal owners and breeders. It's a curious dichotomy, to say the least. And an incredibly destructive one, as well: the logical conclusion to this madness can only be an end to healthy purpose-bred dogs.
And let's be perfectly clear: turning a blind eye to the continued outsourcing of this kind of serial irresponsibility is a form of madness.
Solving this issue will require a two-pronged attack of the so-simple-it's-radical variety: cracking down on unsafe and irresponsible pet transport (through legislation when necessary),while going to the source and providing owner outreach and education, promoting low-cost spay/neuter, and passing reasonable animal control laws (the "Three Ps," if you will).
This is, of course, far easier said than done. Some people are resistant to change no matter the potential benefits; some people go apoplectic at the mere hint of new or updated animal regulations no matter the wording or intent; others still have a vested interest (ego, ideological, financial) in keeping things exactly as they are. But tackling these difficult issues and making communities better for pets and their owners is quite possibly the most rewarding work we do -- and something we'd be happy to help with. Come on, guys, don't be afraid to give us a call!
We're always thrilled to read new mainstream reports raising public awareness of humane relocation. But this isn't merely a public perception issue, and it is only fair to point out that Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to recognize the problems this issue poses, and one of the first (if not the first) to take action.
This is, in fact, something we reported on, and an issue we were active in working on:
We sincerely apologize if anybody took this blog post as an attack upon the policies (and policy makers) of Massachusetts; that was definitely not our intent!