The news couldn’t have come at a worse time. On July 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) closed U.S. borders to dogs. Tears flowed across the globe, as the agency identified 113 countries that are high-risk for rabies and suspended all canine imports from them. The unexpected decision, made without public input, is causing financial hardship and emotional distress for charitable animal rescues, U.S. citizens living or traveling overseas with their pets, and diplomats serving abroad.
The big question most are asking is, why the emergency shut down? Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from a non-human animal to a human. COVID-19 has provided us all with a lesson in zoonotic diseases, but it’s also taught us so much more.
It’s notably been the most difficult period in many of our lives. Personally, my mother was taken by the virus in October. It makes sense the CDC — the organization established to protect public health — doesn’t want a return of canine rabies since it was eradicated here in 2007.
“We feel that there’s an obligation on the part of CDC to make it possible for people to serve their country and to come home with their pet dogs.”Ambassador Eric Rubin
But the CDC, USDA, and CBP have successfully stopped the four cases of rabies that arrived in dogs from two countries in the last six years, three of which the CDC says came from the same country, Egypt. All this during a period when an estimated six-million dogs were imported. Certainly, when mink farms are reportedly the biggest animal-vector threat to American citizens right now, it’s odd the CDC turned its attention to and locked the doors on dogs.
Ambassador Eric Rubin, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, says diplomats are having a “terrible time” trying to comply with the CDC’s emergency regulations.
“We represent 17,000 people who go overseas to serve our country in some of the most difficult places in the world. Our members risk their health and, at times, their lives,” Rubin said. “We feel that there’s an obligation on the part of CDC to make it possible for people to serve their country and to come home with their pet dogs and not to suffer the anxiety and stress, and at times, frankly, agony wondering whether they’re going to have to leave their dog behind.”
Others say there were other steps that should have been taken before the agency went to the extreme of enacting a blanket dog ban.
“The CDC has overreacted, given that the risk of canine rabies isn’t very high,” Susan Johnson, co-founder of Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network, says. “The suddenness and sweeping breadth of the CDC ban, the lack of supporting data to explain it, and the complexity of the permit process has placed unreasonable, disruptive, costly, and stressful burdens on United States Government (USG) personnel serving abroad with their family dogs.”
Additionally, Johnson says, USG personnel are being forced to pay an unexpected $3-5,000 to hire transport companies to bring their dogs home. That is, if the CDC grants an exemption.
Animal charities are not being granted exemptions.
“We have almost 500 dogs in our sanctuaries in China — each one saved from the most horrific forms of torture and abuse. Of these 500 dogs, 120 have already been adopted by American citizens, but are currently trapped now because of the CDC suspension,” Jacqueline Finnegan, who represents No Dogs Left Behind, says. “I think that I speak on behalf of all of us in the international rescue community when I say we are willing to do whatever is necessary to satisfy the CDC’s need to protect the American public to bring these dogs home.”
The CDC made this sweeping decision without considering the consequences. Its emergency rule is causing immense hardships for American citizens and rescue organizations who have consistently followed health import regulations.
If the agency feels its current import protocols aren’t working to protect health, it can require further testing of dogs, something it has already put into play for American citizens requesting exemptions.
Animal Wellness Action (AWA) is leading the charge to assist the CDC. We represent 92 affected organizations.
The CDC called for more funding. Since the ban was enacted, our team successfully lobbied lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass an amendment providing an additional $3 million for the CDC. The measure to streamline the nation’s dog import system is now awaiting passage in the Senate.
The money is essential so the CDC can modernize its system in a way that benefits all. The agency’s current “One Health” global approach recognizes the interconnectedness between humans, animals, and the environment. It’s a lovely thought.
But we can’t just recognize our interdependence. We must create solutions and work together for the safety of all in our global community. It’s time for the CDC to finally recognize what many of us know: Dogs aren’t pets; they’re members of our families.
We need the federal government to step up now and do all it can to reunite Americans abroad with their beloved dogs, because you don’t leave family behind.