BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — As retail bans and public pressure on commercial breeders make it harder to find local pets, Minnesotans are looking to other states and countries for their next family dog.
Some 40,000 dogs cross into Minnesota each year, according to the National Animal Interest Alliance. And the number of foreign dogs entering the United States has quadrupled in the past decade, reaching 1.1 million nationwide last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Buyers and nonprofit rescue groups are delighted with the state’s embrace of imported dogs. But critics say the animals bring some problems, from disease to aggression due to poor breeding.
“We have lots of concerns,” said Courtney Wheeler, senior veterinarian for the state Board of Animal Health.
Some worry Minnesotans are enabling communities that refuse to deal with their own animal problems, as breeders simply replace the dogs that are rescued.
“People do this because they think they are saving dogs,” said Wayne Harmon, a local delegate to the American Kennel Club, which opposes the unregulated importing of foreign dogs.
Animal rescuers say they examine every dog for diseases and have a moral obligation to rescue any suffering dog, anywhere.
“It is not the animal’s fault which geographic location it is in. That is a strictly human decision,” said Amy Swenson, director of operations of Midwest Animal Rescue & Services, which says it has rescued 18,000 dogs since 2006.
Fewer Minn.-bred dogs
The birth rate of Minnesota dogs is plummeting because activists have been fighting against the dog-breeding industry.
St. Paul in December became the third Minnesota city to prohibit retail sales of cats and dogs, joining Roseville and Eden Prairie, over concerns about the practices of breeders supplying the animals.
At the same time, advocates have pushed pet owners to spay and neuter their animals.
“Guess what? We were successful!” said Alliance founder Patti Strand. “Today, Minnesota has no natural overpopulation of dogs.”
However, other states and countries are stepping up to meet the demand, bolstered by rising interest in pets in need of “rescue.”
Rescue dogs are promoted on TV and in movies as alternatives to dogs raised by breeders. In California and Maryland, pet stores may sell only rescued dogs, not those bred commercially.
“Rescues are taking over the marketplace,” Strand said. “If you don’t adopt a rescue dog, they will tell you it says something about your morals. It is a marketing scheme.”
Generally, rescued dogs flow from southern states to the north.
Some states — including Minnesota — depend on Southern dogs. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health reports that 70% of imported dogs in 2018 came from Southern states. Because of the 11,615 Southern dogs, the dogs moving into Minnesota are roughly equal to dogs moving out.
Without them, the state’s canine population would plummet.
Dog rescuers say they’re making up for the negligence of Southerners.
“Dogs in the South are considered disposable. There is a lack of rescue (nonprofits) there,” said Midwest Animal Rescue’s Swenson. “Dogs go to high-kill shelters and they die.”
The Animal Alliance says that America — and especially Minnesota — is an international dumping ground for unwanted dogs arriving from Turkey, China, Mexico, South Korea and Thailand, as well as Puerto Rico.
Minnesota does not keep records regarding foreign dogs. But Colorado, with a comparable human population, recorded 40,000 dogs imported from other states and countries last year.
Strand said Minnesota probably imports more than that because the dog ownership rates are higher here.
Half of Colorado’s imports are “juveniles,” including puppies. That’s a sign, said Strand, that dogs aren’t just being randomly picked up. Instead, they’re specifically bred for a market; commercial breeders are meeting the demand for supposedly “rescued” dogs.
Local veterinarians know what ailments to expect from local pets. But a dog from another part of the world could have — and spread — entirely different problems.
In Chicago in 2015, a foreign dog brought in a new strain of canine flu, which spread to 1,100 dogs. In May, after rabies was found in Egyptian dogs, the United States banned canine imports from that country.
Heartworm — a footlong parasite that lives in the bloodstream — is common among Southern dogs. When they arrive in Minnesota, mosquitoes spread it from dog to dog.
“It’s a fine line. We want people to own dogs. Yet, we have to juggle the risk to the dog population in Minnesota,” said Wheeler, the state veterinarian.
Canine brucellosis, a sexually transmitted disease, is common in South Korea. Wheeler can’t prove it but suspects that a recent increase in that disease in Minnesota is from imported South Korean dogs.
The imported dogs — few of which come from loving homes — can be dangerous to their new owners. When introduced into families, they sometimes bite.
“We have to admit that these are basically feral animals,” said animal advocate Harmon.
Especially difficult are South Korean dogs, said Harmon. “They are not bred to be pets. They do not have socialization,” he said.
“I would avoid those rescues like the plague,” Strand agreed. “There is such a thing as a bad dog.”
‘Rescue has no borders’
Most of the imported dogs at the Animal Humane Society, the state’s largest humane non-profit, are from other states, not from other countries.
The group’s dogs are carefully vetted, according to Paul Sorenson, director of Marketing and Communications.
“Most organizations bringing dogs to Minnesota are doing it responsibly,” said Sorenson. “If you adopt a dog coming here by transport, you should do your research to trust the organization you are dealing with.”
The groups that import foreign dogs have not reported higher-than-normal rates of disease or behavior problems. The dog-importers say they screen every dog.
For example, Midwest Animal Rescue puts every dog into a foster home for a waiting period, to make sure they are accustomed to household life. Every one of its dogs is quarantined, and examined by a veterinarian.
They are then adopted, for a fee of $200 to $600 per dog.
Molly Nemec, of Lindstrom, has brought in more than 180 dogs from South Korea since 2016.
She compares the suspicion of foreign dogs to the mistrust of human immigrants at the Mexican border.
“It’s all about the fear of foreigners, of being afraid of different people, and building a wall,” said Nemec.
“Rescue has no borders, and compassion has no limits.”