Quebec’s Refuge Magoo dog shelter is used to bringing in dogs from overseas, but not quite at this rate.
“Right now we have about 40 dogs, could be 45,” staff coordinator Valerie Tetreault said, speaking to CTV News in late August. “We just had 11 this week.”
The goal is to bring in as many foreign dogs as possible before Canada’s ban takes effect at the end of the month.
As of September 28, Canada ban the import of dogs from more than 100 countries covering regions of Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The reason? To prevent the spread of canine rabies.
The measure, announced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in June, was developed after two infected dogs were imported into the country from Iran in 2021.
A different strain from that found in wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, canine rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system.
The CFIA notes that while there are currently no confirmed cases of canine rabies in Canada, the death rate in infected humans exceeds 99% if treatment is delayed.
“The importation of a single rabid dog could result in transmission to humans, pets and wildlife. If a person is exposed, they should undergo serious treatment,” read a statement from the CFIA sent at CTV News.
But advocates say the rule is too extreme and could have devastating consequences for dogs and rescuers.
For Refuge Magoo, based in Vaudreuil-Dorion, importing foreign puppies is crucial.
About 90% of rescue dogs come from other countries. Of these, about half are from Mexico (exempt from the ban), while the other half are from Kuwait (considered “high risk” for canine rabies, i.e. not exempt ).
“Most rescues won’t survive without these imported dogs,” Tetreault said.
“We’ll take a [local] surrender without asking questions,” Tétrault explained. “But we don’t see dogs roaming the streets [in Canada]tired, hurt, hungry, hungry, about to die.”
By bringing in animals from countries where street dogs in this condition are common, rescues can provide options for Quebecers interested in adopting their canine companion instead of buying one, Tetrault explained.
“There is such a demand for these adoption dogs,” she added. “[If] we do not welcome them and there is a shortage of adoptable dogs. Where do we think people are going to go?”
The answer, she fears, is the puppy mill.
“These dogs are being abused, abused. We don’t want this industry to thrive. We want to save the dogs we already can.”
But not all rescuers agree with this assessment.
Sophie Fournier is the woman behind Sophie’s Dog Adoption, a small adoption operation near Montreal.
She argues that local dog abandonments are a major problem; even if some foreign dogs are prohibited, there are enough abandoned puppies in Quebec for everyone.
Nevertheless, Fournier strongly opposed the ban.
“I think it’s a really bad idea, the way they’re going about it,” she said.
Although many of Fournier’s dogs are of local origin, a connection in Lebanon – a country considered “high risk for canine rabies” by the CFIA – frequently ships dogs to him.
If those dogs can’t get out of Lebanon, Fournier said, “they don’t stand a chance.”
She said overseas rescues used to working with Canadian adoption groups are now scrambling to find homes for these dogs, many of whom are in poor condition after years of living on the streets.
“It freaks everyone out […] Everyone is rushing to ship dogs,” she said.
She fears the urgency will lead to taking shortcuts, which comes with security risks – the very risks the CFIA is trying to mitigate.
“It’s getting a total mess. I find it getting chaotic.”
Both Refuge Magoo and Sophie’s Dog Adoption have a thorough vetting process when it comes to foreign dogs.
“With proper vaccines, treatment and care, rabies is preventable,” Tetrault said.
Before their dogs enter Canada, organizations obtain a health certificate signed by a veterinarian, including proof of rabies vaccination, as required by federal law.
Their dogs are also neutered, spayed and microchipped before flying to their new home.
Fournier says a watchful eye is kept on the dogs once they are brought in.
“If I see anything wrong with their health, I’ll take them to the vet,” she explained.
With these precautions in mind, rescuers wonder why a ban is needed and say other alternatives should be explored first, such as a mandatory quarantine period.
“Could they have done it differently? And maybe put tighter restrictions on people from rescues bringing dogs? Absolutely,” Tetrault said.
But the CFIA says vaccines aren’t always effective.
“The rabies vaccine is unlikely to be protective if given after an animal has already been infected. As rabies can have a long incubation period, a dog may be unknowingly imported with the disease, even if he was vaccinated before importation,” his statement reads.
The risk is simply too high, he argues, and a ban is the only option.
“The CFIA has developed a relevant and proportionate approach to the current public health risks to animals and people, and takes into account aspects such as the CFIA’s regulatory framework and infrastructure, including quarantine facilities at entry points.
But rescues are pleading for a chance to try something different.
“Look at us all rising to the occasion,” implored Tétrault. “[We] have no problem taking extra measures to keep everyone safe.”