- - Monday, September 7, 2020

Baggage handlers in Toronto got a tragic surprise this summer: 38 dead French bulldog puppies in the cargo hold of a flight from Ukraine. Another 400-plus pups survived the trans-Atlantic journey, though many were dehydrated, vomiting and weak. 

The dead puppies are part of a bigger story about how animal rescue has been corrupted by bad politics and unscrupulous groups who see an opportunity to make a buck, from trafficking purebreds to exploiting disasters. 

Make no mistake: There is no overpopulation of purebred French bulldogs roaming the streets of Kiev. What’s going on here is the international trafficking of animals, often under the guise of “animal rescue.” Ironically, it is animal rights groups in the United States that have created this problem. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that illegal puppy imports are big business. “Many dogs are bred irresponsibly in large numbers in ‘puppy mills’ overseas,” the agency notes. “Importers then fly them as cargo in large batches, claiming them as ‘rescue’ dogs, valued at $0 on their paperwork, and allowing the importers to evade entry and broker fees.” They can then be “adopted” out for a huge fee — in the thousands of dollars. 

More than 1 million dogs are imported each year, according to a 2019 USDA report, but almost none have federal oversight because it is easily sidestepped. All you have to do is create your own group here, call it a rescue and pay someone abroad to sign off on the paperwork. 



Dogs are being imported in such vast numbers because animal rights groups have lobbied hundreds of localities and a few states to ban the retail sale of dog and cat pets. These proposals are sold to lawmakers as a way to combat alleged bad breeders in the United States.

Much like Prohibition created a Mafia-run black market in booze, pet store prohibition has created an incentive for people to import dogs from Eastern Europe, China, Mexico and other countries, where there is no federal oversight or regulation. U.S. breeders, meanwhile, are subject to state and federal regulations, and some participate in additional third-party programs. Good American breeders are being locked out, while shady foreign sources have an open door. 

It’s not just inhumane transport issues that the little-regulated international transport of animals can create. Before the coronavirus came to our shores from China, dog owners heard about the H3N2 Asian dog flu. The disease first hit the U.S. in 2015. The initial outbreak in Chicago affected more than 1,000 dogs and cost owners up to $75 million, and the disease quickly spread.

How did Asian dog flu get here? Cornell University virologist Dr. Edward Dubovi linked the disease’s introduction to animal rescuers bringing in infected dogs from Asia. In trying to solve one problem, they created another. 

And then there is disaster animal rescue. When Hurricane Laura recently struck, groups including the Humane Society of the United States pounced, begging for donations to help animals. But where does the money actually go? 

We got a peek under the hood when the New York attorney general demanded charities report how they spent money they raised after Hurricane Sandy slammed the Big Apple in 2012. 

The Humane Society of the United States reported it raised millions. And admitted only about one-third went to Sandy relief. 

Meanwhile, the HSUS reports parking $30 million in offshore Caribbean accounts. Someone needs to “rescue” that money and help animals as donors intended. 

Much animal rescue is legitimate and above board, but states and the federal government need to crack down on bad actors and provide proper regulation and transparency, both in how these groups raise money and in how they conduct operations. 

Legislation in Congress, the Healthy Dog Importation Act, is aimed at combating the spread of disease by international animal rescue. That’s one part of the solution. But until we end the pet sale prohibition, we won’t end black market breeding and trade. This is one of those moments in Washington where it’s instructive to see who votes “No.”

• Rick Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C., and manages the website www.Chinaownsus.com.

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