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An old political saying goes, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Americans are following this advice whether they live in Washington or not. In many states, the demand for dogs now outstrips the supply of those available for adoption. Shelters in some states now import dogs from other regions and even other countries, which is leading to concern about what's called dog trafficking. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Just north of Boston, the Northeast Animal Shelter is one of the largest private shelters in New England. It started in the 1970s, but about six years ago, it went through a big expansion building a new 13,000-square-foot shelter with three isolation rooms. The rooms were designed to house the increasing number of dogs the shelter transports from other states and Puerto Rico.
LAURIE MCCANNON: This room here is the room that has 10 kind of dog stalls in it.
ALLEN: Laurie McCannon is the director.
MCCANNON: These dogs actually just arrived to us on Saturday from Tennessee. So they would get their health checks today. It's been almost 48 hours - so when our vet comes in tonight.
ALLEN: In another isolation room are some of the 20 dogs that arrived to the shelter a few days earlier, flown in from Texas. In its early days, Northeast Animal Shelter used to place about 300 dogs a year in new adopted homes. Last year, McCannon says, they adopted out 4,400 dogs, three quarters of them from out of state.
MCCANNON: Started out with Puerto Rico and went to a great shelter in Nebraska that we worked with forever. I think at one point, we actually dealt with five different shelters in Georgia alone.
ALLEN: Shelters tell a similar tale throughout New England and the Northeast, also in the U.S. Northwest and the Great Lakes region. Decades of spay and neuter programs, combined with a strong participation by rescue groups, have greatly reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats. McCannon says it's a different story in rural states and in the South.
MCCANNON: You know, the South still has a lot of work to do with spay-neuter laws and, you know, getting people to feel that pets are more companions and parts of their family than yard dogs or that kind of thing.
ALLEN: Some people point to Hurricane Katrina as a turning point. Efforts to rescue and find new homes for dogs stranded in New Orleans showed groups a new way to find homes for unwanted dogs. Now a network of shelters and rescue groups transport tens of thousands of dogs each year from other states and other countries. Patti Strand is director of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an organization that represents the American Kennel Club and other dog breeders. She calls it retail rescue.
PATTI STRAND: There is a lot of money in this new kind of rescue that has emerged, and these groups move dogs from just about any place that they can get them.
ALLEN: Exactly how many dogs are being transported is unknown. The USDA doesn't track how many dogs are transported across state lines or even how many are important by rescue groups from other countries. Some states, though, do.
ARNOLD GOLDMAN: In 2012, 14,000 animals were brought into Connecticut from other states.
ALLEN: Arnold Goldman is veterinarian in Connecticut who has been concerned about the booming interstate movement of dogs. He's seen a lot of health issues, like mange and heartworm, as a result. And he says there's a deeper issue.
ARNOLD GOLDMAN: There are Connecticut-origin animals in our brick-and-mortar shelters who wait for homes themselves, and there is something disconcerting about that.
ALLEN: Rescue groups are finding unwanted dogs to transport in the South and in other countries, including Mexico, Taiwan and India. Those are all countries where rabies is endemic in the dog population. Strand says the concern about rabies is more than theoretical.
STRAND: We've had a dog with rabies come in from Iraq. One came in from India - Thailand. We've had a dog from Puerto Rico that wound up in a shelter in Massachusetts with rabies.
ALLEN: In Massachusetts, Connecticut and some other states, regulations have been tightened in recent years requiring rabies certificates and quarantine periods, but problems persist. Last year, a puppy transported to Vermont and adopted by a family was euthanized after it developed rabies. The Association of State Public Health Veterinarians has asked the federal Centers for Disease Control to ban the import of dogs from countries where rabies is endemic. Greg Allen, NPR News.
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