Recently, 17 cats and dogs were brought to Seattle in a trans-Pacific adoption effort launched by the Animal Rescue Team Taiwan (ARTT). While I applaud efforts to find homes for animals in need, I have some very serious concerns about bringing them in from other countries.
First of all, we have a large enough homeless pet problem here in the United States. Millions of cats are killed in shelters every year simply because they run out of time before anyone steps forward to adopt them. It’s ridiculous to bring animals from other countries to add to the problem.
Secondly, there’s a very serious health concern here. There has been an outbreak of rabies in Taiwan, and the health requirements for importation are ridiculously lax: The animals only need to be vaccinated and get health certificates.
There really is no infrastructure in Taiwan that allows for activities such as trap-neuter-vaccinate-return, so these cats and dogs don’t receive any kind of ongoing monitoring or health care. In addition to illnesses, they may also carry parasites that are not common in the United States, thereby exposing domestic animals to diseases and infections their bodies haven’t evolved to fight. Think of the way smallpox decimated Native American populations because they’d never been exposed to the disease before the arrival of European colonists.
These cats and dogs aren’t pets. ARTT is pulling them off the streets and importing them into the U.S. They have almost certainly never been vaccinated against anything in their lives, and given the incidence of rabies in the stray animals, it’s pretty likely that they’ve been exposed. There’s no way to determine whether a live animal has rabies: The test, which involve microscopic examination of brain tissue, must be performed after an animal has died.
And why do these animals need homes outside Taiwan in the first place? It seems that domestic animal adoptions are down since the rabies outbreak began, and more families are abandoning their cats and dogs because they fear getting the disease themselves.
According to a report from the Oregon-based National Animal Interest Alliance, "Given the incubation period for rabies, from five days to several years, with 20-60 days being the norm, un-quarantined importation of street dogs from poor countries with low rates of vaccination for rabies. It is a disaster waiting to happen." (Emphasis mine.)
The same thing is true for cats.
It’s irresponsible for American shelters to expose adopters to the potential risk of rabies. It’s irresponsible for American shelters to use the space in their facilities for street animals that could potentially have a fatal and highly contagious illness and are probably not socialized very well, when those spaces could be used for animals that have a chance of being adopted instead.
While I understand and respect the desire to help cats get a chance at a loving home, bringing animals from other nations — particularly nations where there’s an outbreak of a nasty disease — is just a bad idea.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.