You may have seen various news items over the last several years about animal rescue organizations importing dogs from other countries into Canada. It's a controversial topic; some people strongly feel that we should be putting our time, effort, and resources into saving the dogs who need homes right here in Canada ... while others feel like "a life is a life", and it doesn't matter where the dog comes from.
Questions also often arise about whether some rescue groups are behaving more like 'dog brokers'. Their primary purpose is to import dogs to make a profit, rather than to genuinely match them with appropriate, permanent homes. Putting aside the issue of import-for-profit, there are still lots of questions surrounding bringing 'foreign' dogs into the country for adoption. Most of us probably haven't thought much about it - we see a dog that needs help, we fall in love with it, and if we're in a position to help, we help. Right?
Whether you are for or against importing rescue dogs into Canada, or haven't quite made up your mind, here's some food for thought.
Sometimes rescue groups will import a specific type or breed of dog that they feel is in high demand from adoptive homes here in Canada. For example, small dogs like chihuahuas are often brought into Canada because the claim is that there aren't enough small dogs here to satisfy the number of homes who want to adopt them. And yet, a check of local humane societies, SPCAs, and rescue organizations show breeds and sizes of all types - maybe not all of the time, but often enough. Checking nearby communities may reveal even more, as can checking databases like petfinder.com.
You might hear the argument that Canada doesn't have enough "adoptable" dogs. Dogs that have been rescued as strays from rural areas or from up north are sometimes seen as "unadoptable" because of limited human contact or never having lived in a home. Adoptive homes may be reluctant to take on a dog for which there is little background information available. However, thousands of people have successfully adopted dogs just like these and with time, patience, training, and love, found them to be sweet and loving pets.
Humane societies, SPCAs, and animal rescue organizations are often overflowing with dogs who need homes. Shelters often assess dogs for their adoptability. Behaviour assessments can give them a good idea of what type of home would be most suitable for a particular animal. Unfortunately, shelters are sometimes forced to turn away pets because they're full, or they don't have enough foster homes. Pleas for more people to apply as foster homes are common; without foster homes, many more homeless pets are turned away because there's simply no space or resources available to care for them.
The internet is a convenient way to search for adoptable dogs, but not all dogs are posted online. Shelters and rescues are nearly always notoriously understaffed. That means that they may not always get around to posting incoming animals online. Pick up the phone and call them. Ask if they have the type of dog you're looking for. If not, ask if you can be put on a waiting list or whether you can put in an application for 'pre-approval', should they receive a dog that's a good match for you.
What's the harm of bringing in a few imported dogs here and there? There are so many "death-row dogs" or dogs suffering terribly in other countries, and Canada has lots of homes... or do we? Canada has a relatively small population for the size of our country. For example, Canada's population is somewhere just below 36 million. California, a state from which many rescues bring in dogs, has a population of more than 38 million.
There aren't enough adoptive homes in Canada; just look at all the currently homeless pets still waiting for families!
Importing a dog from another country into Canada to give it a home takes away a home for a dog right here in Canada. Most of us don't have the resources or the desire to adopt multiple dogs; so if a home chooses to adopt an imported dog, then that home is removed from the network of homes available to a Canadian dog.
Rescue groups aren't the only ones importing dogs; individuals sometimes do the same. The internet has made it possible to fall in love with a dog anywhere in the world. If one is willing to travel to another country to adopt a dog, why not consider traveling to a neighbouring (Canadian) community?
It's not always easy or convenient to find the dogs available for adoption in our vast country. Remember that the humane societies, SPCAs, and municipal animal control facilities (the "dog pound") aren't the only places to check. Animal rescue organizations are everywhere, some specializing in certain breeds, sizes, or types of animals. It takes some time to ferret out these resources, but you just might find a great match near home.
It tugs at the heartstrings to hear about an imminent euthanization... or about a dog who has been suffering, regardless of the cause. There are millions of dogs, however, who don't have a dramatic backstory, and who are simply dogs who need homes.
Some Canadian shelters still euthanize healthy dogs; these dogs are still in as great a danger as the ones who are being imported, even if their stories aren't publicized or high-profile. Many other dogs live in harsh conditions, particularly in the unforgiving north or in rural areas where they are more subject to dangers like predators, freezing cold winters, dying from illness or injury, and lack of food, shelter, and water.
Consider, also, that the dogs who are imported into Canada are generally adoptable (or at least, that's the expectation). Overflowing shelters are more likely to euthanize the less adoptable pets first in order to give the more adoptable ones a chance to find a home. Could it be possible, then, that the dogs that are "pulled" from other countries aren't necessarily the ones that were in imminent danger of euthanization?
Canada has too many unwanted pets needing help. Adopting a "death-row" dog from a high-kill shelter in the United States, or a suffering street dog from Taiwan, certainly has a higher "wow-factor" than simply adopting a needy dog that's been waiting in a Canadian shelter... but if saving a life is saving a life, then why not consider adopting a Canadian dog, too?
Complications can occur while bringings dogs into the country. For example, problems can arise during the transport of the dogs to Canada, or trying to find the right match (rather than just any family willing to adopt).
Making a poorly-matched adoption can result in the dog later being surrendered, returned, or abandoned. The challenge is even greater during mass import and adoption events, like the one that recently happened in Vancouver, BC. One hundred dogs were flown in to the Vancouver Airport where a group of pre-approved adoptive families waited to meet and adopt them. Sounds great in theory; however, how does one match a dog to a family, when there hasn't been any time to get to know the dog or assess it? What about a health check by a vet? It's also questionable how kind it was to the dogs to put them in a big, noisy building with hundreds of strangers, right after they had just endured a stressful journey.
Import also doesn't necessarily guarantee a "no-kill" situation. What happens if the dog is brought to Canada - and then determined to be unadoptable for behavioural or health reasons? Or ends up being passed over, time and time again, for another dog? Will the organization that imported the dog be able or willing to keep him forever, even through challenging situations?
Finally, importing dogs doesn't help to solve the underlying issue, which is that there are simply too many unwanted pets. Moving towards a solution would require dedicated education, spay/neuter initiatives, and programs like the Foundation of Animal Wellness Initiatives, which provides contraceptive implants to dogs in rural areas. Moving dogs from one shelter or rescue group to another simply makes the problem less visible.
One option for those who are divided about the issue of adopting an import dog is to "adopt locally, and donate to other countries". For example, funds that would have been used to transport a pet into Canada could instead be used to sponsor the dog's adoption fee, or donate to a spay/neuter initiative.
Certainly, there needs to be more education about where and how to find dogs available for adoption in Canada... and of course, heavily publicizing adoptive dogs online through social media networks can be a huge help in generating interest.
Shelters and animal rescue organizations all over the world do important work in helping sick, neglected, abused, and stray animals. Regardless of whether a dog has a dramatic backstory, or it's just a stray dog who was rescued from the local community, a homeless dog is a homeless dog - it needs a loving and appropriate home.
Ultimately, it's up to each one of us to decide whether we prefer to adopt a Canadian dog or if we'd like to adopt one imported from another country. It's true that dogs from any country can become awesome family pets. It's also true that that dogs from all over the world need help - including right here in Canada.
"Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts."