2006 by Rich Avanzino

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

There has been much discussion over the importing of dogs from one community to another. I'd like to share my opinion on the subject.

First, no matter how the contribution is made, saving lives is important.

If a family falls in love with a dog on the Internet and transports the animal to their home 1,000 miles away, great!

If puppies from the south are going to be killed unless they are transported elsewhere, I see the merit in shipping them to shelters in areas of high demand, with appropriate guidelines for health and safety incorporated throughout the process.

I also think high volume adoption programs that save lots of dogs, even if the dogs are coming from out of state, have validity.

And I'm a huge believer in inter-agency transfer within a service area. This practice spreads the work of saving lives across many organizations, helping to reduce euthanasia community wide as well as in individual shelters.

But I fear that when outside puppies and small dogs are imported, they will get adopted while old and ugly local dogs languish in animal control and other community shelters and eventually get euthanized.

Maybe it's time to ask ourselves some tough questions. What is our mission - to save all of the healthy and treatable dogs in our own community shelters or, more generally, to save as many dogs as we can? Is it our job to fill a market niche and import the canines the public wants, or do we have a primary obligation to the dogs in our own service area? If individual shelters import puppies and small dogs, will it negatively impact the death toll community wide? If we talk about creating a "humane ethic" and if we represent ourselves as community based organizations that champion and protect the animals in our own jurisdiction, should we place imported dogs at the expense of the big, old, ugly, sick, injured and poorly behaved who are already under the care of our community shelters and need homes?

We ask our community to make a lifetime commitment to the canines they adopt from us. We screen adopters and make them sign a contract to hammer home the importance of being responsible pet guardians. We want to feel confident that, should the dog break a leg or acquire a behavior problem or simply get old, the adopter will take care of the animal and not abandon him. We get upset when someone surrenders a dog because he has a minor behavior disorder or a nagging medical condition. We would be especially annoyed if after surrendering such a dog, the individual went on to adopt a puppy, making the choice to have a companion animal, but sloughing off the relatively hard part of the responsibility - the time and expense of dealing with old age, medical or behavior issues. Should we do what we tell our adopters not to do and abandon the more difficult cases in our own community shelters? Should we use our scarce resources on imported puppies and small dogs to the detriment of the dogs we already have under our care?

In my opinion, once a canine from our community is admitted into our shelter system, if he is healthy or treatable, we owe that dog the same commitment of time and resources we ask of our adopters.

Many argue that communities can import dogs and still improve their lifesaving numbers each year. But if the goal is to end the surplus of pets in our own community, I don't think importing works. I believe that as long as dogs are imported, they will divert attention and resources from the treatable and hard to place, and many of these animals will be euthanized. However, once the healthy and treatable dogs are saved, we would hope that shelters would reach out to other areas to provide a broader safety net of care.

I admit, getting treatable and hard to place dogs adopted is challenging - it takes extra time, money, creativity and patience. Placing an adorable fur ball is much easier and more fun than looking for someone to take a grizzled, geriatric with cataracts or a hyper adolescent with separation anxiety. And finding homes for all of our community's healthy and treatable dogs will require tremendous leadership. But I believe it's our job, as animal welfare advocates, to sell the public on the idea that the big, old, ugly, sick, injured and poorly behaved deserve to be saved.

It's up to us to create the campaigns and to find the means to express every life is important in ways the public can relate to and understand. And we need to lead by example. If we don't value the animals in each one of our community shelters by finding them all loving homes, how can we ask the public to provide a lifetime home for their pets?