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Importing Rescue Dogs From Other Countries Into Canada

Rescuing Dogs From Other Countries 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.

Importing Specific Breeds or Sizes of Dogs

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

Not Enough Adoptable Dogs in Canada?

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.

Plenty of Adoptive Homes in Canada

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.

Adopting a Foreign Dog as an Individual

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.

Are Imported Dogs In More Urgent Need of Help?

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?

Imported Dogs All Live Happily Ever After - Or Do They?

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.

A Personal Choice

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."
(Author Unknown)

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Carole says...

Yes, I agree as I have adopted from the USA and have been distressed looking at their desperate need to find homes for these poor souls ..

I also have adopted here in BC but feel they need to do more to expose these dogs and cats to find them good homes????

Cait says...

Adopting from a reputable rescue and giving a loving home to any dog in need is always a beautiful thing, whether it is done locally or otherwise. There are dogs in need everywhere in the world, and everywhere in the world there are loving homes waiting for them (some places with more available homes, some with less, and some places with more available dogs, and some with less) - from how close or how far away it might be for them to find each other should not be the point, just that they do.

RM says...

The problem is 100% the humane societies and shelters here. Their requirements for adopting are RIDICULOUS. They don't even look at someone's application if they can't check all the boxes. God forbid someone doesn't have a fenced-in backyard as if walking the dog or taking it to a dog park isn't an option. I lived in Vancouver. Who in a metropolitan area has a fenced-in yard, with no other dogs, at a particular size? It's absurd. I was also a single first-time owner. Apparently, that's a sin too. Women can raise kids as single parents yet can't handle a dog without having a boyfriend? Seems like discrimination to me. I looked everywhere within a 5-6 hours radius of me in BC and it was the same BS everywhere. I refused to go to a breeder or purchase a dog so what were my options? I guarantee she has a fuller life with me than she would with a family who keeps her locked in a backyard all-day

Caroline says...

Canada's supply of adoptable dogs depends on imports from other countries, as has been made clear by COVID border closures. Annual shelter statistics (Humane Canada) show that euthanasia of healthy dogs is no longer common here.

When SPCAs websites are populated with only pit bulls and german sherpherds, you suggest Canadians adopt a semi-feral dog from the north. I love large breeds and admire the wonderful people willing to adopt "project" dogs. However the average adopter simply wants a smallish, family-friendly dog and they have few options.

Reputable rescue groups have good systems for vetting, transporting humanely, matching dogs appropriately to adopters, and troubleshooting when things go wrong. Yes its always possible to find examples of sketchy operaters. This is true in local rescue too. Adopters should work with a reputable organization and embrace the opportunity to welcome a foreign dog into the family.

Sarah says...

Well, to be fair, the author didn't say to adopt a semi-feral dog from anywhere. He suggested people consider dogs from other parts of Canada. I used to think that northern dogs wouldn't make good house pets. The best dog I ever had was from the north. He was rounded up and sent to a rescue in BC. He was an amazing dog! Perfect in the house, listened well, and was so grateful for every little thing, like a soft bed to lay in.

Covid also isn't the reality of regular life. More pets have been adopted during Covid (google it and see).

I will always try to adopt from Canada first since this is my country. If I can't find a match in a reasonable time, then I would probably adopt from overseas. I don't understand why people are getting so bent out of shape when all the article says is to consider Canadian dogs.

Tracey says...

I recently retired and decided to adopt a small dog after five years of being dogless. I found it impossible to get a dog anywhere in Ontario, which was exactly the same situation I had in 2009 when I ended up buying my last dog through Kijiji. I was determined to get a rescue dog this time, and spend months trying to get approved for the very few good matches I was able to find. Then Covid hit and I was told the Canadian agencies were not adopting out because they could not do home checks. I understand the importance of home checks but fir heavens sake, two of my contactable references were a veterinarian and a rescue volunteer. Eventually I was out in contact with a local group that works with a Texas rescue org and in a week I was approved for a beautiful little stray. $450 including vetting, shots and transport and 4 weeks later she was sitting on my lap. She has few minor behavioral issues but is settling in well and I am still waiting for the local organizations to get back to me

Marko says...

i have C-PTSD im in desperate need of a DOG i wish to train him eventually to be a SERVICE dog. im on DISABILITY and live in a small apartment but me and the dog would be camping hiking walking always outside together. ADOPTING A DOG FROM a HUMANE SOCIETY is beyond difficult, sad thing is i see so many poor DOG"S just wasting away at the shelter. im not rich i dont have a house and a fenced off yard, but i love outdoors i camp i fish i hike, i would be always doing something the dog would be very much loved and happy. have all the food and water he would need. a safe home and a good area... yet im not good enough to adopt a DOG thank you......

Susan Green says...

My local shelter seldom has any dogs available. Often if you look out of province you run across Shelter staff who say they don't adopt out if you are out of province. It is a no-win situation. They want you to adopt in Canada but create more barriers to do so, then complain when people adopt from the states. I think sometimes they make it hard so they can continue to generate income: a little hard to keep asking for money if there are no animals in the shelter. I have been looking for the last few years and now I will adopt from the states like so many people I know.

Nunzia Kovacevic says...

I completely disagree with "Canadian Shelters are over flowing with dogs". It's simply not true in most of Canada. I have been looking for a long time for a husky/husky mix and it's next to impossible to adopt one. I live on an acreage in Maple Ridge BC

but because I have young children I lso get automatically disqualified from a rescue. With Covid restrictions it's also not possible to adopt from the states either. So now out of complete defeat I will end up purchasing from a breeder. I would love to adopt rather than shop. My last husky was a rescue and the best dog I'll likely ever have owned. However the barriers and the availability in Canada make it close to impossible.

Kelly Richards says...

These people should be ashamed of themselves it's pretty sad when there are so many families like myself here in Nova Scotia who have filled out so many applications to give a dog or any animal a wonderful forever home and after trying for 2 Years you DON'T GET A RESPONSE BACK !

Andréa Veiga says...

Here, in Brazil, we have billions of abandoned dogs and cats eagering for a good owner and home, but unfortunally people nearby can’t afford do support them...

I would be glad to help people abroad by making arrangements to sent then by plane to have love and warmful families in their new homes!

C Ross says...

To keep it to the point, I do think bringing in dogs is a good thing but only to places where there is a shortage. I was looking for quite a while at five or six of the nearest shelters to me, and there were very few dogs coming through.

I imagine there are places within Canada where shelters are overrun, so I'm surprised there aren't more programs to bring dogs where people desperately want them, like Ottawa.

wendy says...

My husband and I adopted a little terrier x from a so called Rescue.She brings dogs over,she picks them up and drops them off to the people and takes their money.The little guy we rescued was near death,and I spent 4 days with him at the vet.I let Rescue know that I was not giving up on him.When we finally got him home ,after about a week he flipped my pom and went for her neck.My husband and I a little freaked.His behaviors escalated.We informed rescue and told her we would get him help.She offered to pay and we did not see a dime.Of course we went ahead with training,because dog was showing aggressions to my husband.In the end I ended up being attacked,really bad bites.We told rescue what happened and we gave him back.She promised not to adopt him out until he was rehabbed.5 days later she had him adopted out and took more money.I wrote everybody i could to have her stopped in this regard and nothing happened.The system must be better regulated.I fear what happens next for new parent

Alan says...

I am a very responsible person and have the space, time and financial resources to take care of my dogs. I have been trying to adopt a dog from Canada for over a year. Every rescue and SPCA turned me down because my current dog is not fixed. My dog is a large pitty mix that is extremely friendly and have no prey drive.

So now, my choices are to purchase a puppy locally or adopt from US. Well, I refuse to purchase a puppy that is used to make profit, so I am giving a dog from Texas amazing home. Moreover, I agree with an earlier comment that Canadian rescues are more respectful and not as invasive.

Mary Lewis says...

Good read. I would adopt from the rescues or shelters however, the cost is outrageous. OSPCA charged $500 for a puppy, teenage dog $400 and a senior is $350. ( don't quote me on the prices trying to remember what I read on their site ) I know the cost they may have invested but outrages. It really bothers me they kill pets who haven't had any intrest yet will not offer them at a lower cost. Yes if you can not afford the adoption fee maybe you can not afford to care for the pet. It would be more beneficial if they lowered to fees. A dog in the USA SPCA is $50 for a dog who is spayed or neutered. Hmmm what would you do?

Sue says...

What? The fee is there because they want people to actually think about it before adopting a rescue dog, but there's still a lot of people who adopt just so they can get a dog at a cheaper price. You do realize that a purebred or designer breed puppy can normally go up to 2500-4000 from a reputable breeder right?

Ellie says...

Hi Sue, while I understand your comment I disagree with you. When it comes to adoption and finding another forever home for any dog, the breed and designers doesn't matter.

All of us, in the end, have the same value. ASHES. An urn for those who can afford it or "disposable thing" for those who can not.

We were privileged to share our home with a designer dog, which also came with a VERY designer health bill.

(who knew!?).

I also think the adoption prices are waaay to high. Why should a potential adoptee be burdened with price that does not match the same care, as it would incur for a real pet owner? AND... why euthanize any animal when inexpensive adoption would make more sense?

As I said earlier, any breed should NOT matter if the outcome = death, by the very institution(s) professing "rescue".

April Williams says...

Is there another reason for trafficking dogs to NY,NJ and Canada? Why are K9’s lives being threatened. Sounds like a good way to ship some drugs. Which is why Ga, USA the animal control says they own the county!

Nancy Yeats says...

While your article certainly has some good points, I have to disagree or re-phrase your statement that "Humane societies, SPCAs, and animal rescue organizations are often overflowing with dogs who need homes. " these organizations have lots of adoptables,but they are frequently medium and large size dogs (often a pitty or amstaff mix) and not a good match for people living in apartments or with small children. Over the past 40 years my husband and I have had 8 rescues, frequently 2 at a time who all lived into their teens. We adopted from local (within a 100km) shelters, pounds and the SPCA. My husband and I are seniors and now live in a very small bungalow.have been trying to adopt a rescue dog ( small under 20 lbs, a young or adult dog, in other words just not a senior) for almost 2 years.We have cast our net across 6 provinces and I daily check online through more than several dozen websites or FB pages. They are always already adopted or have an "adoption pending.

Mo Hamilton says...

I found our local humane society requirements to adopt very restrictive and invasive. I felt very scrutinized and it was such a negative experience I didn't want to go back. The experience made me think they must have less dogs needing adoption than people willing to adopt. I have rescued local dogs in the past but I found most of the available dogs needing adoption to be large bull types which would be unsuitable for me.

Dolores Doherty says...

I rescue beagles from ky that are about to euthanized and find them homes in ON. Beagles are wonderful pets and very few are available in local shelters

Susan says...

Animal suffering should know no boundaries! And dogs in Ukraine, Romania, Asia and Africa generally suffer much worse than dogs in Canada. The reason why so many people around the world are trying to save these dogs is because they need it!

Pam says...

I completely agree with your post, however, like a few other posters, I’ve been searching now for 2 yrs for a small dog to adopt. We have 3 dogs, (one large, 2 small) 2 adopted from here in Canada, & one I purchased, after frustration with finding & adopting a dog. We had 4, but our baby Zeus, passed away last year at the age of 14, from a heart condition. I’m disabled, & can no longer handle a large dog. I have been on a waiting list now for over 6 yrs for a service dog. (The only large dog I could have) And we adopted our Chihuahua after searching for 1 1/2 yrs. And I got her from a private home, not a shelter. I regularly search shelters in our city, three smaller communities & a large city, all within 200km. I check all the shelters 3 times a week. I’m STILL waiting, 2 years plus later, for just 1 small dog. All this time, only 1 dog came up 4 adoption at all 5 shelters I watch, & it was literally gone within an hour. Why should I wait?

Debra Clinton says...

There are MILLIONS of animals available for adoption from shelters around the country. A quick search of the San Bernardino Devore shelter yielded me 4 chihuahua's in one second. You might have to look a little further and make some extra effort, but they pay you back a million times over! PLEASE ADOPT, DON'T SHOP!!!

Trish says...

Many Canadians would love to rescue from Canadian Kill Shelters but no lists seem to be available, so they resort to high kill from the states. Any way to get a list of Kill Shelters in Canada? Would greatly appreciate it.

David Sharpe says...

I currently own two german pointers and am looking to adopt a third dog, a senior wire haired pointer currently fostered in Minnesota, does anyone know of companies who provide ground transport to bring over this poor old dude is looking for a home to retire and I think he would fit in well with my pets the only piece missing to the puzzle is the transport.

Pet Friendly says...

David, you might want to check out this Facebook page: - they have a list of pet "rescue railroad" networks that might be able to help. Best of luck. Senior dogs are awesome.

Petra says...

I live in Montreal and looked to rescue groups to adopt a small to medium size dog. There weren't many available and when I spent quite a bit of time filling out adoption forms either I didn't receive a call or the dog was adopted already. It was quite discouraging so we bought a dog from a breeder. I went to the SPCA this summer a few times and was told by the women, Tammy, that in Quebec the animals are well taken care of and there wasn't much of a need currently.... This past week 18 dogs were in need of foster care and they were all placed in a few days. I know fo people who would love to adopt a small dog its just not working for them. So if we can help some dogs form other parts of the world and they can receive a welcoming home here, where there seems to be a demand, lets help. At least until we can manage it without hurting our own.

Susan says...

Petra, there are so many places in Quebec or eastern Ontario. It's really a shame you bought a dog instead of adopting.

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