Pet parents hoping to adopt or travel with a dog overseas may want to wait a while before booking their trip.
On Monday, U.S. officials announced a one-year ban on importing dogs from more than 100 countries. The ban is in response to the alarming number of dogs bought from foreign countries that arrived in the U.S. with false rabies vaccination certificates over the past year.
Animal adoptions and pet fostering rose throughout the United States in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people had more time and interest in caring for a pet. This jump also caused a surge in dog importations and, subsequently, false rabies certificates, Dr. Emily Pieracci, a rabies expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR.
In 2020, the CDC uncovered more than 450 dogs coming to the U.S. with false rabies certificates, a 52% increase over the past two years, Pieracci added.
One possible explanation, she added, is the rush to adopt "pandemic puppies" last spring.
"There is a possibility that there may be a correlation between empty shelters here driving an increased demand to purchase puppies overseas," Pieracci told NPR.
The ban, which includes 113 countries considered high risk for rabies, will start on July 14. Countries named in the ban include Kenya, Brazil, Russia, North Korea, and China. According to the Associated Press, many of the dogs who were previously denied entry into the U.S. because of false paperwork came from Russia, Ukraine, and Colombia.
Rabies continues to be one of the deadliest diseases that can be passed between animals and humans, accounting for about 59,000 deaths among people each year, Pieracci told NPR. Rabies, she added, is almost always fatal once a person shows symptoms.
"What we're really trying to do is prevent the reintroduction of rabies back into the United States from a source outside of the U.S.," she added.
Several animal experts, including Douglas Kratt, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, applauded the CDC's decision.
"We want to make sure we're bringing healthy dogs into the country - especially if they are going to be pets," Kratt, a veterinarian in Wisconsin, told the Associated Press.
Others, however, expressed concern that the ban could put healthy pets living overseas in danger.
"While we understand the need to keep animals in the U.S. safe, we are concerned that this move will penalize responsible pet owners who adopt rescued animals from other countries," Meredith Ayan, the executive director of SPCA International, told NPR.
She continued: "It will also cause a large number of otherwise healthy animals living abroad to be surrendered and potentially euthanized if they can't travel to the U.S. to their adoptive owners. The U.S. already has strict quarantine and rabies vaccination procedures in place that have proved highly effective for many years in keeping animals in the U.S. safe from rabies and which we encourage the CDC to keep enforcing."
The ban also applies to dogs who have lived or traveled abroad with their owners in high-risk countries within the past six months, according to the CDC's announcement. U.S. citizens returning home from any of these countries with their dogs, as well as those who have service dogs and need to travel to banned countries, can apply for a special permit. Permits for pet adoptions or emotional support animals, however, will not be issued.
Pieracci recommends that pet owners who have adopted or purchased a dog from overseas in the past year double-check their pet's vaccinations.
"There is a possibility that if you purchased a pandemic puppy and it came from overseas from a high-risk rabies country, it may not have been appropriately vaccinated against rabies," Pieracci told NPR. "You might want to get it checked out, or maybe just have your dog revaccinated."