Stop Importing Feral Dogs Before It Is Too Late

Well-meaning people all over the developed world are importing feral dogs from other countries, sometimes their near neighbours (continental Europe to the UK for instance) in the mistaken assumption that the dogs will have a better life as companion animals. No doubt that is true for some of them, but it is also true that very many are given no support in adjusting to a life for which they are not epigenetically conditioned and suffer long-term by becoming the classic boomerang dog, just being utterly miserable or eventually being euthanised anyway.

For every “heartwarming” story of a successful rescue (at least on the terms of the owners), there may be untold numbers of dogs who would have been much better off being left to fend for themselves in the way that 80% of the world’s dogs do. There has, quite rightly, been a furore over the way that dogs are treated when prepared for the meat trade in Asia, especially Korea. Although dogs have been raised for centuries as food animals, major annual festivals can result in companion animals being stolen and kept in extremely poor conditions leading up to and including slaughter. Quite apart from the fact that the way dogs are treated in countries that import these dogs leaves much to be desired, there is now a major risk of the spread of disease that affects humans and other animals and that could have devastating consequences.

The Bark recently reported on one such case.

A consignment of dogs was imported from South Korea into Western Canada last autumn to save them from being used in the meat trade. One dog was infected with the Asia-1 strain of canine distemper virus (CDV) which had not been reported previously in North America. It was 2 weeks before the dog showed any signs of being ill, during which time it could have not only come into contact with other dogs, including those shipped in the same consignment, but could have risked infecting wild animals with a strain to which they have no resistance. The dog was so ill that it was euthanised.

Dr. Edward Dubovi, Director of the virology laboratory at the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Centre where the new strain was isolated and a Professor of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences Director summed it up when he stated that “Well-meaning people are trying to save animals, but when you move animals, you move their infectious disease. If this particular Asia-1 strain got out into the wildlife population, then it’s here forever, because you can’t get rid of it once it hits wildlife.”

It is not yet known whether the Asia-1 strain of the canine distemper virus has been contained. Dr Dubovi added “There’s probably a whole host of others things we haven’t tested for. If we aren’t looking for it, we aren’t going to find it until it’s too late.

A canine influenza virus first appeared in the Chicago area in 2015 and was also traced back to rescued Korean dogs. A recent canine influenza outbreak cost US dog owners $75 million for diagnostic testing and vaccinations, not to mention the effects on their dogs.

There is also serious concern that dogs imported from countries with lax attitudes to antibiotic use help to spread the extent of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals. Owners who then go on to feed raw food contribute even more to the spread of potentially lethal pathogens. Approximately 75% of new and emerging disease strains are zoonotic and could be transferred to humans.

Don’t think that it can’t happen closer to home. Canine distemper is similar to the measles virus and we have seen recently how serious measles outbreaks can be . Canine distemper killed thousands of seals in the Caspian Sea in 2000 and caused several fatal epidemics in jackals, African wild dogs and foxes within the Serengeti–Mara ecosystem of East Africa. A closely related virus then emerged abruptly in the lion population of the Serengeti National Park, resulting in a fatal neurological disease that resembled epilepsy; the lions that died also had encephalitis and pneumonia. The epidemic spread north to lions in the Maasai Mara National reserve, Kenya and affected an unknown number of hyenas, bat-eared foxes and leopards. It has re-emerged in Belgian wildlife, including badgers and foxes.

Between 20% and 50% of infected dogs die. CDV re-emerged in Finland in 1990 after a 16-year absence. 41% of the affected dogs had been vaccinated and 30% died. An estimated 5,000 dogs in total were affected. CDV can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected animals, their body fluids or faeces but the risk is low. CDV is already being imported in puppy farmed dogs and others and the increase in unvaccinated dogs risk spreading it.

A similar story is true of canine parvo-virus; an outbreak in the autumn of 2018 spread across the UK and is again being brought in on puppy farmed and other imported dogs.

These are just two examples but there are many more, including outbreaks of diseases not previously known in the UK such as “Alabama rot” (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy) and babesiosis, spread through infected ticks.

By all means campaign for better welfare for dogs all over the world but leave them where they are, for the sake of all animals.

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