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The New USDA Regulations Simplified
Posted on 11/04/2014 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

In August, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published their final rule in the Federal Register, announcing changes to regulations regarding importation of dogs under the Animal Welfare Act. The new rule came about with the 2008 Farm Bill and has undergone public comment period before its final publishing. It sent dog owners into an uproar of confusion and misinformation over a law that I think is actually a GOOD thing. As per usual, a seemingly simple law takes several pages of explanation in the Federal Register. I will attempt to simplify and break down what the law actually does and hopefully assuage any remaining fears.

The basis of the rule is that it prohibits the importation of dogs into the continental U.S. or Hawaii for the purposes of resale, research, or veterinary treatment unless the dogs are at least six months old, in good health, and current on vaccinations.

As is always the case, there are exceptions, and the exceptions are what make the rule. Dogs that do not fall into an exception must have an import permit. In order to obtain an import permit, they must have a certificate certifying good health and proof of the following vaccines: distemper, parvovirus, and parainfluenza virus on a schedule according to acceptable veterinary practices. They must also have a rabies vaccination certificate. The exceptions do not have to meet these requirements, provided that they meet the conditions for exception.

First and foremost, most applicable to dog owners, is that the new rules apply to dogs being imported for RESALE not for the importer’s retention or personal use. So, if you import a dog or puppy for your own breeding program, or even to try out for a while and end up later selling, it does not have to meet the six-month-old minimum or the other requirements. Even if the dog is imported for training, it is not considered resale. Herein lies the root of much of the confusion because many breeders and dog owners believed that they would no longer be able to import puppies under six months for their own use.

Resale includes any transfer of ownership or control of an imported dog to another person for more than de minimis consideration. The implication of this is that ADOPTION is included as resale. The USDA clearly states that while some adoption groups may not recoup all the costs incurred in rescue through their adoption fees, they do not consider fees for adoption to be de minimis consideration. I consider this to be the most important aspect of the new rules. Having more regulations on the importation of rescue dogs is imperative to keeping out new or even eradicated diseases in this country. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared canine rabies eradicated in the U.S., but following that declaration the same agency reported three cases of canine rabies in dogs brought into the adoption network from outside of the U.S. Thus far, importation of rescue dogs has been fairly unregulated and there have been cases of dogs quietly placed into the rescue system as if they came from within the U.S. This is a huge step towards better regulation of the rescue industry, because it has become just that, an industry.

Another exception to the regulations is if a dog is imported for veterinary treatment and the conditions for the exception are met. A veterinarian from the country of export must certify that the dog requires treatment that cannot be obtained in its home country. The importer must also have a veterinary agreement with Animal Care and keep the dog confined until conditions in the agreement have been completed. Whether or not the dog is sold after treatment is irrelevant.

The final exception is if a dog is imported for research and the requirements for importation might interfere with the research. In other words, the importer must submit satisfactory evidence to Animal Care at the time of application that specific requirements, such as a certain vaccination or age, will interfere with research, tests, or experiments in conjunction with a research proposal.

All in all, the new rule is very reasonable and desperately needed, and not, as some thought, the drastic change for dog owners and breeders who import for their own breeding programs and personal use. Despite the confusing changes to the AWA regulations of breeders, the USDA is taking many steps in a positive direction. This regulation of importation of rescue dogs is one, and another is the hiring of NAIA attorney Julian Prager as Canine Program Advisor to APHIS. Getting input from an actual dog breeder is refreshing news to the dog fancy. USDA Animal Care is also realigning its structure, so hopefully we can look forward to a more positive future.