The Ukrainian International Airlines plane arrived in Toronto after what isusually a routine 10-hour flight. It was a typical commercial aircraft, butairport workers found a shocking scene on board.

Inside were 500 crated puppies, according to Canadian authorities. Many weredehydrated, weak and vomiting. Thirty-eight of them were dead in their crates.

The gruesome discovery on June 13 set off an investigation by the CanadianFood Inspection Agency. And it cast a spotlight on a growing internationalmarket for dogs that advocates and lawmakers say needs more restrictions — notonly for the sake of imported dogs, but to protect the health of people andanimals in North America.

“The number of dogs imported into the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past fewyears, and we are screening less than one percent of them,” Rep. Ralph Abraham(R-La.), a veterinarian who last month co-sponsored a bipartisan bill calledthe Healthy Dog Importation Act, said in an email. “We need to do more toprotect these animals and those already in the country.“

Much about the Ukrainian flight remains unknown, including whether Canadianauthorities were aware so many puppies were headed to Toronto. The government,which says it has “rigorous standards” for animal imports, has released littleinformation, citing the pending investigation. Ukraine International Airlinessaid in a statement Friday that it regretted the “tragic loss of animal life”and is working with local authorities to make “any changes necessary toprevent such a situation from occurring again.”

Animal advocates said flying 500 dogs on a single plane is unusual, if notunprecedented. Dogs need water and other care when being crated on the tarmacand during flights, said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the HumaneSociety International in Canada.

“You’re relying on the staff of the airport and the airline to do that care,”she said. “If those animals are transported in those numbers, it would bephysically impossible to provide that kind of care.

The puppies flown from Ukraine were French bulldogs, according to severalCanadian news reports. The dogs are one of several brachycephalic, or snub-nosed, breeds so vulnerable to respiratory problems that some U.S. airlinesrefuse to transport them.

Despite their health problems, French bulldogs are among the most sought-afterbreeds in North America, ranking fourth on the American Kennel Club’s mostrecent list of popular purebreds and fifth on the Canadian Kennel Club’s list.Their popularity means “Frenchies” command high prices. On the sales websitePuppyspot, French bulldog puppies are priced from $4,500 to $8,000. One U.S.nonprofit rescue has offered the dogs with adoption fees as high as $1,850,according to a Washington Post investigation.

The potential profits incentivize sellers and brokers to skimp on animalwelfare, animal advocates and government officials say. The National Postreported that temperatures were approaching 90 degrees when the puppies wereloaded onto the plane in Ukraine and that some of the puppies’ crates wereshrink-wrapped, which could cause suffocation.

How many French bulldogs, or dogs overall, are imported to Canada annually isunknown, Aldworth said. In the United States, more than 1 million dogs areimported each year, according to a 2019 report from the AgricultureDepartment. The vast majority are assumed to be pets traveling with theirowners, the report said; the USDA issued only about 2,900 permits for dogsdestined to be resold to consumers. Some observers question that conclusion,including the American Kennel Club, which says it believes many are “actuallydestined for transfer.”

Because a growing number of larger U.S. dog breeders are shutting and smaller-scale hobby breeders are retiring, some of “our breeding has been outsourcedto other countries,” said Patti Strand, founder of the Oregon-based NationalAnimal Interest Alliance, which advocates for breeders and other animalbusinesses.

Some shipments have involved well over 40 dogs, often puppies too young to flylegally, according to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blogpost that described surveillance of illegal puppy imports at New York’s JohnF. Kennedy International Airport. Importers seek to skirt regulations byclaiming the dogs are older or are “rescues” not intended for resale, because“the potential profit is exponential,” the post said. French and Englishbulldogs are particularly common, it said.

In a 2019 report on puppy smuggling, the U.K. charity Dogs Trust said manydogs originate in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania andBulgaria and are transported to other European countries without appropriaterest breaks, food or water. In her 2018 book “Designer Dogs,” MadelineBernstein, president of the animal welfare group spcaLA, described a shipmentof French bulldogs that landed in Los Angeles from Ukraine. The animals were“underage, not vaccinated against rabies, and in urgent need of care. Thepaperwork did not match the puppies in the container,” she wrote.

Such incidents are evidence of a widespread problem, advocates say.

“The importation laws for pets have not kept pace with globalization anywherein North America,” Strand said.

The USDA requires that dogs entering the United States for resale be at least6 months old and vaccinated for rabies and other diseases.

Source: Washington Post

Image: Bigstock

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