‘It is easier to bring a dog than a box of beer,’ says a veterinarian
The provincial government fails to keep a central database tracking of thousands of puppies imported into Canada each year, the CBC Marketplace has learned, a problem doctors have warned for years threatens animal welfare and could move zoonotic diseases to Canada.
Ottawa has not yet taken steps to combat the almost uncontrolled industry. Not only does the provincial government keep track of how many puppies have arrived – and they do not know where they end up.
Canada’s top veterinary researcher Dr Scott Weese, head of infection control at Ontario Veterinary College, said the business of importing dogs for commercial purposes did not have enough guidelines.
“It’s easier to bring a dog than a box of beer,” he said.
While the business is obscure, websites, especially in eastern Europe, offer puppy litter for export to Canadian-based consumers. Proponents of Weese and animal rights activists Marketplace have expressed concern that the source of the animals is, in fact, puppy mills where mothers are kept pregnant and raised in adverse conditions, leading to infections, diseases and medical conditions from miscarriage.
Once purchased – anywhere from $ 50 to $ 200 each – dogs are rushed to Canada, collected by retailers and sold online, usually with 10 to 20 times the purchase mark.
The market has received puppies from Ukraine, for example, that can be sold online for between $ 3,000 and $ 6,000 each.
Change recommendations are not accepted
Weese made recommendations to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which regulates the importation of animals, in 2016 in a report by the Canadian National Canine Importation Working Group.
The report stated that “a large number of non-registered animal species (especially dogs) are imported into Canada each year,” and that “there is currently no small monitoring and control of the movement of animals within and outside Canada.”
Representatives of the CFIA and other government departments were both members and advisers of the working group, which made various recommendations from CFIA staff at major border crossings, fines and detailed records keeping.
But Weese said the recommendations have not been made and the problem is as widespread as ever, with imported puppy flights arriving at Canadian major airports several times a week.
Even though COVID-19 has banned air travel, the airport at Pearson International Airport has been full of new puppies – some are said to be only eight weeks old.
Hundreds of them sometimes arrived by plane, crammed into two or more crates, at the end of a closed international voyage that began the day before in eastern Europe.
It is a situation that repeats itself at least several times a month, for many months, as part of a multimillion-dollar import program, said Weese and veterinarians, which link overseas puppy mills with unexpected Canadian buyers.
While the same import is banned – or heavily regulated – in some countries, it is legal in Canada. So the process, in fact, dogs are usually sold within days of arrival.
‘Like they just took a lot of mail’
After nearly 40 dogs died during the shipment of more than 500 puppies from Ukraine in June, Marketplace began to take the airport out, looking like a Turkish Airlines flight, bringing dogs to Kiev via Istanbul, introducing several puppies.
Shortly after landing, seven cars entered the cargo depot, from Mercedes and Lexus with tinted windows to the van. Passengers, believed to be smugglers, filled out the paperwork, took minutes to clear the dogs with the CFIA, and loaded several cartons into their vehicles.
“They come in and just give the couriers permission to import… as if they were just picking up a lot of mail,” dog manager Abby Lorenzen told Marketplace.
It is a legal process, but it happens on a scale that affects animal welfare advocates.
“These imported animals in large quantities can be sold for free with the exception of the dollar – that should stop,” Lorenzen said.
He said he had seen many dog-landing flights to Toronto, which were taken by small groups of people.
“You’ll see them in Kijiji and on a third-party website,” early in the morning when they arrived, Lorenzen said.
With import comes germs – and that’s not all
Adam Harper bought a French bulldog in Kijiji for $ 3,500. He said the seller had never inquired about his suitability for a puppy. Six hours after responding to the ad, her new friend, Titus, was in Adam’s car on the way to his new home.
Harper was surprised when the dealer gave him a Ukrainian dog passport when he left. It said that Titus had been vaccinated against rabies. But a veterinarian found that the text was “absurd.”
A blood test to show that Titus had never been vaccinated, or given rabies shot at an early age would not work.
Market has spoken to many other buyers whose dogs have been imported from eastern Europe and sold at sites like Kijiji. They said the puppies they bought were found – usually within hours of being downloaded – full of germs and insects such as parvo, giardia and cryptosporidium.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association warns that there is a risk of importing zoonotic diseases that are not currently available in Canada.
Erika Erwin’s puppy, Mousse, came from a dealer who said the dog was “100 percent healthy.” But hours after he bought it, he ended up at an emergency veterinarian’s office and was diagnosed with coccidia and campylobacter. The veterinarian also diagnosed Mousse with severe neurological problems, and he was unable to hear his hind legs.
It got worse. Soon after the arrival of the first buttocks eruption, in which part of the intestinal system falls into the dog.
Animal insurance included a lot of expenses, but pet care for Mousse added more than $ 13,400.
Many other dog owners imported from abroad have reported similar problems.
Erwin reported to his dealer a number of health issues. He said the seller blamed him.
“And if I wanted to get that money back, I had to sign an agreement to keep my mouth shut and not post on social media,” Erwin said. “And I didn’t think that was the case.”
It imports both legal and non-regulatory
Marketers who follow the market believe they are selling imported puppies and come in contact with them, while recording with a hidden camera. Some believe that dogs came from eastern Europe. Some did not.
One trader said that his puppies had been removed by a veterinarian in a traditional ceremony, to ensure their health.
But Weese, a veterinarian, said there were no rules. “The dog was alive. That’s too little to pass on. We don’t have any diagnostic requirements. We don’t have segregation practices.”
He wants that to change, like the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. In a statement following the deaths of dogs admitted to Pearson airport, the organization said: “This look is a matter of the importation of large numbers of puppies,” and noted that these practices “raise serious animal welfare concerns.”
In July, the CFIA issued an interim order suspending the importation of puppies under eight months old from Ukraine. But Weese said importers may use other countries to hide their origins in travel, or to buy elsewhere in eastern Europe, so imports continue.
“If I can bring 200 dogs from somewhere else and sell them for $ 5,000, that’s a lot of money,” said Weese.
The ICFIA said “significant restrictions” or a total ban could harm importers, including rescue workers and dog exhibition workers. It states that strict import requirements will not eliminate the possibility of genetic defects or parasites not being available at the time of arrival in Canada.
It also said consumers should ask “key questions” to avoid sponsoring puppy mills in Canada and abroad.
Meanwhile, Titus is committed to his new life with Adam Harper and, after a new vaccination, has a clean life.
Harper said he would never buy another dog in Kijiji.
Tips for buying a puppy
For those who are looking for an animal from a reputable source, humane communities and animal groups have provided many tips and warnings about the behavior of the suspects.
If the puppy is three months old or younger, the mother dog should still be present. Potential buyers should be able to see him, as well as any documents accompanying the puppy, before making a deposit.
Farmers often have waiting lists that stretch for months, if not years. A breeder who offers a dog for a quick sale may not be a respected employee. When contacting a breeder, try to meet where the puppy litter is located so that the facilities can be seen. Breeders who want to meet in supermarkets, parking lots and parks may need additional testing.
As always, humane communities, SPCAs and support groups continue to be an alternative, and often less expensive, option for dog adoption.