Critter Corner: Beware, ‘retail rescue’ dogs may pose health risks | Lifestyles

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For more information on retail rescue, visit:

National Animal Interest Alliance,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Protect the Harvest,

Animal Law,

Beware: ‘Retail Rescue’ dogs

may pose health risks

The update started with: “I feel like an idiot … the equivalent of someone plopping an adorable lion cub into my lap. And me hoping that I can train it to be a house cat.”

The puppy was 8 weeks old at the time of adoption. He was one of a litter imported from a Caribbean island. He was 12 weeks old when his owner contacted me about worrisome behaviors. I did a virtual session to buy them time while I helped find a trainer closer to them.

Since then, I have been in frequent contact with the owners. In five months, this puppy has cost about $12,000 to address medical and behavioral concerns. Adopters of other puppies from the litter have been in contact with each other, and they are all dealing with similar issues.

The issues began long before the puppy’s litter came to the United States. The rescue was deceptive about the health and source of the puppies. The puppies had external and internal fungal and parasitic infections that would have been picked up with a vet check.

The group kept changing the story about the source of the litter. As more issues arose with the puppies, the more it became apparent what had happened. This family, and many others, fell victim to what is called “retail rescue.”

Retail rescue refers to an animal rescue group that buys animals to resell while labeling the transaction as adoption. Under the US Animal Welfare Act, dogs imported for resale or adoption must be at least 6 months old. Vaccines and vet checks are mandated prior to import. Age and health concerns should have prevented the importation of these puppies. However, the group found a way to circumvent the law.

How did retail rescue start?

In the 1980s, I worked for a shelter in Massachusetts that was one of the first to “pioneer” alternative means to obtain animals for adoption. An increase in spayed and neutered pets meant fewer animals (think puppies) surrendered to rescues. Fewer animals coming in meant less income. Shelters need money to operate.

This shelter began working with other shelters in rural Massachusetts to help them alleviate overcrowding. By the late 1980s, it was shipping in animals from other states. Eventually, it began going to US territories and other countries to fill their cages.

Retail rescue is a multimillion-dollar, poorly regulated industry. According to one estimate, in 2015, a rescue group could make over $420,000 a year. In Virginia, in 2012, about 130,000 dogs were imported for retail rescue. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that 86 retail rescue groups in the United States and Canada purchased over 5,700 dogs and puppies from commercial (retail) breeders at a cost of over $2.68 million. Some of these dogs were adopted for over $5,000 apiece.

About 1 million dogs are imported annually for adoption. In 2015, a Virginia-based group imported dogs from Egypt and falsified papers. In 2020, 450 dogs being brought to the United States had fraudulent or falsified rabies documents. This was a 52% increase from the prior year.

Retail rescue is not new and poses health risks. Before you adopt, educate yourself about retail rescue.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.


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