It’s arguably never been trendier to own a dog. Thanks to Instagram hashtags and viral pet compilation videos (not to mention those heartbreaking commercials accompanied by that Sarah McLachlan song), many of us want to fill our lives with canine companionship. And while about a third of all child adoptions in the U.S. happen in single family homes, pet adoptions are popular in all kinds of dwellings and among all types of family units. But if you do decide to open your home to a pup, there might be a good reason to make sure it’s from the United States — and that you make sure it gets all its vaccinations from your vet.
Recent data shows that there are over 75 million pet dogs in the United States, which is more than any other country can say. But despite the fact that there are countless pets living in shelters all across the nation, some people are still choosing to adopt pets from overseas. In some cases, they might be hoping to save them from excessive cruelty. During the build up to the Sochi Olympics, there was a campaign to rescue the area’s stray dogs from being rounded up and killed. And of course, there are those who want to save dogs from a horrific fate in China due to the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, which takes place every June.
It’s honorable that many kind-hearted individuals want to ensure these dogs get a second chance at life. Some estimates show that as many as 1 million dogs are brought into the U.S every year from other nations. But the problem is that there are some groups who will knowingly falsify pupper paperwork to ensure these animals can come to the United States. In many cases, that means dogs with diseases are allowed to come here — and will often infect other dogs in the process.
Back in 2015, one dog brought to the U.S. from Egypt was later found to have rabies. That same year, a canine influenza strain infected 1,300 dogs in Chicago; the strain was later connected to China and South Korea, though it was never determined how the disease found its way to the United States. Another dog that was brought to Canada last year (and was suspected to be rescued from a Korean meat farm) also brought with it a strain of the highly contagious canine distemper virus. Until that time, no cases had ever been reported in North America. Not only did the dog have to be euthanized, but officials were unclear as to whether the dog had arrived in the U.S. alone, or if other dogs could have been infected.
Not only do the organizations bringing in these dogs typically have no idea whether the animals could be sick, but they also don’t typically provide immunizations for these pets. According to Humane Society International, more than 200,000 dogs from puppy mills around the world are ordered online and shipped to the United States each year. Many of these dogs do not receive canine disease immunizations, and what’s more, if their papers don’t show they’re being transported for commercial sale or adoption, they need only a rabies vaccination to enter the United States or Canada. And unfortunately, many pet owners don’t know to ask about vaccinations; they merely want a cute dog that they’re unable to obtain here.
Even worse is the fact that many American pet owners are purposely choosing to not vaccinate their animals. Although vaccines have been saving lives for over 300 years, there’s still a lot of misinformation surrounding vaccines and the supposed harm they can cause. Despite the fact that the vaccine-autism link has long since been debunked, there are still those who opt out of vaccinating their children due to the perceived risk. Now, these misguided views are even spreading to the animal kingdom and are putting pets at risk.
Even though dogs cannot develop autism, there are anti-vaxxers who are refusing to get their dogs immunized because of their unfounded concerns over these protective shots.
One California vet told American Veterinarian: “Over the last 10 of 15 years, there has been an increase in mostly unfounded concerns about vaccine safety for people and that, I think, has raised people’s awareness and level concern about vaccinations for their pets.”
There are even anti-vaxxer politicians who are trying to loosen state laws so that rabies shots might no longer be required for all dogs, despite the fact that this could have major consequences for pet health. Still, it’s not just a problem in the United States, either. In the UK, the 2018 report from Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals found that 25% of dogs (or 2.2 million pups) had not received their vaccinations when they were young. The most common reason given was that owners felt the shots were unnecessary. However, some owners also have major concerns about the development of “canine autism,” a disease that does not exist, to the point where the senior VP of the British Veterinary Association had to issue a statement last year that debunked the link between autism and pet vaccinations after a British morning television show spread misinformation about it on social media.
Of course, like all medical treatments, vaccines do carry their share of potential risks. But most are mild and rare — and the benefits far outweigh the potential risks, say veterinary experts. Since our animals cannot communicate with us or provide consent, it’s up to owners to make well-informed decisions for their welfare, based on data and expert testimony rather than on junk science and fear mongering. So if you plan to adopt a dog in the future, make sure you’re dedicated to protecting its health first and foremost. And instead of trying to rescue a pup from overseas or purchasing a teacup dog online as some kind of status symbol, bring a dog home from your local shelter.