CLEVELAND — Animal rescue groups across Northeast Ohio are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reconsider its new temporary ban on importing dogs from more than 100 different countries as part of an effort to protect against rabies.
Lisa Kime runs “Golden Retrievers in Need,” known as GRIN, which is based out of Cleveland.
It’s one of three local animal rescues that co-signed a recent letter to the CDC asking for an exemption to continue rescuing dogs overseas living in the streets and part of the meat market.
“We feel a little helpless,” she said. “Our goal is to have the CDC be open to some dialogue and to allow quality rescues doing the right thing to continue to bring dogs into this country.”
Other local rescues that signed the letter include Cleveland-based Mutts in a Rut and Akron-based Golden Treasures Rescue. They told News 5 about 40% of the dogs they processed during the pandemic were from overseas since they saw a steep decline in local animal surrenders.
The CDC temporary suspension comes just one month after an imported dog from Azerbaijan tested positive for rabies in Pennsylvania and exposed 33 other dogs, one cat and at least 19 people.
“The importation of even one rabid dog is a serious threat to public health because rabies is nearly always fatal in people and animals once symptoms appear,” a CDC spokesperson said. “Rabies has a high potential to cause outbreaks among dogs, people, and wildlife. Dog importations from high-risk countries pose a major public health threat given the risk of dog rabies being re-established in an animal reservoir. Dog rabies has been eliminated from the United States since 2007.”
The case marks the fourth confirmed case since 2015 of a rabid dog entering the United States from a high-risk country. According to the Ohio Department of Health, not a single recorded case of rabies in dogs has been confirmed in the state since 2016.
Jill Stewart runs “China Rescue Dogs,” a non-profit that has brought in more than 600 dogs to the US and Canada over the past two years. The national organization orchestrated the letter urging the CDC to reconsider, citing the stringent policies already in place for importing dogs from overseas.
“Millions and millions of animals will die and I don't think anybody understands how heartbreaking this will be,” she explained. “We do things right and we should not be punished for something we are doing right and correct.”
Ryan McDonnell of Medina adopted his golden retriever, Murphy, from “China Rescue Dogs” two years ago.
“You’re giving them another chance at life,” McDonell said. “He was rescued from an impound lot in china. He literally was skin and bones.”
After adopting Murphy, McDonnell became involved in the nonprofit and continues to help re-home dogs before they can be used in the overseas meat market.
A CDC spokesperson estimated 60,000-100,000 dogs are brought into the United States yearly from countries it has deemed high-risk for rabies.
“In 2020, CDC identified a 52% increase in the number of inadequately vaccinated dogs that were denied entry into the United States from high-risk countries compared with the previous 2 years," a CDC spokesperson said. “Due to reduced flight schedules, dogs denied entry are facing longer wait times to be returned to their country of departure, leading to illness and even death in some cases.”
A CDC spokesperson explained to News 5 that treatment and investigating a single case of rabies can cost anywhere from $215,000-$509,000.
The new suspension is set to remain in effect for at least one year. To view the complete list of 113 countries labeled high-risk for rabies, click here.