The United States government has eased up on a rule that had banned the importation of dogs from 113 countries because of concerns over fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates. The change comes less than six weeks after the ruling, which pet owners had complained was overly restrictive, went into full effect.
As of Oct. 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had blocked the import of dogs, both foreign and those re-entering the country after traveling abroad, from 113 countries where the risk of rabies transmission for dogs was considered high. The ban was spurred, said the federal agency, by an increase in falsified health documents from international pet importers over the past 18 months.
Now, travelers flying with dogs who received their inoculations from a U.S.-licensed veterinarian may return to the U.S. from the previously banned countries, providing the animal is healthy, microchipped and at least 6 months old, and its owner can provide a valid U.S.-issued rabies vaccination certificate.
The decision was announced over the weekend on the CDC’s website. The agency did not respond to questions about what had spurred the change.
In 2020 alone, as pet adoptions surged across the United States, the CDC said it intervened in more than 450 cases where dogs were being imported with false or incomplete rabies vaccination certificates. In June 2021, one rabid dog was imported from Azerbaijan, prompting a public health response involving agencies in nine states. For the CDC, that one incident was enough.
The dog’s importation “highlights the timeliness of CDC’s temporary suspension and the risk associated with rescue dogs imported from countries at high-risk for dog rabies,” Emily Pieracci, a veterinary medical officer with the CDC, said in an email. “Dog rabies has been eliminated from the United States since 2007 and dog importations from countries at high risk for rabies represents a significant public health risk.”
Dog owners heading out of the country with their animals should make sure their paperwork is up to date, and check their arrival and departure cities: The CDC will not accept expired rabies vaccination certificates, and effective Dec. 1, all dogs that have transited through a country deemed high-risk for rabies by the CDC must re-enter the United States at one of 18 approved ports of entry, including Chicago O’Hare, New York’s John F. Kennedy International and San Francisco international airports. The CDC had also initially planned to reduce those 18 approved ports to only three in early 2022, but has now rolled back those plans.
The CDC’s change of policy does not offer relief to people, including aid workers and U.S. service members, who want to bring dogs to the United States for the first time. Many of them are struggling to reunite with animals they adopted during tours of duty abroad, and they have complained that the rule was too restrictive. Animals adopted abroad, without U.S. vaccination papers, are still unable to enter the U.S. without special permission.