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L.A. Shelter Dogs Transported to Canada: Rescue or Ruse?

“Vancouver group saves hundreds of California dogs from death.” declares a Vancouver Sun headline on January 14, 2011. The article explains that A Better Life Dog Rescue has brought about 200 dogs into Canada, mainly from Los Angeles shelters, for placement in the Lower Mainland. Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette is quoted in the article.

Most are small dogs, some purebreds; and they are driven in the backs of trucks, with sometimes as many as 100 dogs per trip being dropped off at other rescue locations along the route, the article reports. And, every two months dogs destined for British Colombia are driven up to Seattle, where volunteers bring up to 19 at a time across the border.

A Better Life Dog Rescue in B.C. seems to have very responsible protocol for adoptions, including house checks and adoption trial periods.

It is wonderful that homeless Los Angeles animals are finding “forever” homes, but bewildering that there is such a deficit in homeless Canadian dogs that small, stressed Los Angeles shelter animals need to make a frightening, grueling 1,100-mile road trip in the back of a truck, especially when there are so many media pleas for help with Canada’s growing pet overpopulation. 

A recent query on Yahoo from someone in Vancouver asked, “because [it’s] too expensive to buy one in pet store, [are there] any low price breeders in Vancouver? I am looking for an old english sheepdog or a labrador retriever.” The response was, “Labradors are a dime a dozen at any humane society. Olde English Sheepdogs, too, are very easy to find. The only low priced breeder you’re going to find for any breed, BYBs. That’s backyard breeder. And NEVER buy your puppies from pet stores  If you’re looking for a cheap dog, then go to a humane society.” That sounds like exactly the answer you’d get in dog-overpopulated Los Angeles!

To help with Canadian adoptions, Canada’s Guide to Dogs lists over 100 rescue organizations and invites others to join online.

One such effort is Rescuing Dogs in Canada (RDIC), a transportation network created by animal control officer Kathy Juneault. A heart-wrenching article, entitled, “Rescuing dogs in Canada” states, “What started with 32 members has now grown to 230 throughout Canada, about half of which are rescue groups. All dogs in need of rescue must be within Canada...”

Should homeless pets be transferred to other adoption locations?

Certainly there are good reasons to move impounded dogs to locations where they have a better chance for a home; and most shelters have done this historically if they have more than one facility or there is another local shelter or humane society where the animal has a greater opportunity for adoption. For instance, large dogs impounded in Los Angeles’ densely populated inner-city shelters are routinely transferred to a city Valley shelter, where many properties are larger and big dogs are more in demand.

But in the post-Katrina era, rescued-animal transport has become increasingly popular and expanded. Homeless pets are moved from FL to Maine, from GA to New England and from San Francisco to NY. Some of the transport companies seem highly reputable and list strict standards regarding the physical and travel conditions for the animals. No one can deny the wisdom of moving over-bred dogs from states with rampant puppy mill and breeding operations to locations where willing and responsible homes will adopt and love them.

However, in regard to shelter animals, this also begs the question, are we really solving the problem or merely moving it around? Does making the problem less visible in a pet-overpopulated community by (temporarily) emptying a shelter by transport lessen the impetus to demand more responsibility from pet owners?  Does it also reduce pressure on politicians to better fund spay/neuter, curtail breeding, and support strict enforcement of animal-care laws?

Does transport guarantee “No Kill?”

There have been mounting concerns over animal transports from Los Angeles City shelters, which are being pushed by political forces to become “No Kill” and thus face serious and dangerous overcrowding. (Small humane societies and private rescues have the right to selectively admit only adoptable dogs, while government-funded municipal shelters have “open-door” policies, which mandate accepting all animals in need.) Local “no-kill” proponents maintain that City shelters should not euthanize animals to maintain humane conditions.

Questions are also arising as to who is tracking the dogs that are being transported to Canada and elsewhere? Is this a ruse to try to appear “no kill”? Once the pets are gone, does the releasing agency demand to see records of what happened to them? Not at Los Angeles Animal Services. 

New L.A. Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette was the former head of the Seattle Humane Society which, while she was there, received small dogs transported from Los Angeles city shelters and benefited from the fact that spays, neuters and vaccination costs are all covered by the City’s tax-supported spay/neuter fund designated to provide low-cost and free spays and neuters for financially challenged pet owners in Los Angeles.

Although Seattle Humane charged up to $275 per dog upon adoption, there was no reimbursement to Los Angeles. Reportedly, Seattle Humane Society has still been receiving dogs from Los Angeles City shelters under this program, loaded in to the back of a truck and driven by volunteers to their facility. That practice of loading animals into the back of trucks and vans in plastic carriers has also prevailed in L.A. Animal Services transports to other cities.  In some cases, transport may be provided by a donor organization.

A YouTube video recently raised serious concerns when it showed animals directly from Los Angeles Animal Services (with papers from specific shelter shown on the film) being unloaded in Canada from air transport and offered immediately by a Los Angeles-based rescue group conducting an event in a well-known pet supply chain store. The small dogs were sold for $400 cash each, without even an application or I.D. by adopters required. (The names of the organizations and store are purposely not listed here because all have done and are doing very responsible work for animals in the U.S. The video, however, emphasizes the inability to control the actions of someone outside the country.)

What impact does importing homeless dogs from the U.S. have on Canada?

The questions about transport to Canada are not just to determine the quality of the rescue organization, but also about the impact that importing dogs will have on Canadian pet overpopulation. Not all the animals are small, desirable dogs. Many included in transport are older and nondescript mixed breeds. Why wouldn’t a Canadian rescue group save dogs from its own area to lower the euthanasia rate, rather than bring in foreign dogs that will take up available adoptive homes?

In the past few years there have been alarming reports of numbers of Pit Bulls taken to organizations in Canada. Canada does not seem to have a shortage of Pitties. In fact, Ontario has banned pit bulls, and concerns over dog fighting operations increase throughout the country. So what is happening to these difficult-to-place dogs that are brought in and left with the assurance to U.S. rescuers that “they are all finding  homes”?

Different legal outlooks on animals in Canada.

Despite growing opposition to pound seizure, Animal Alliance of Canada states, “Canadian research facilities can still access lost pets for use in experimentation. In 2007, 9,175 lost and abandoned dogs and cats were used in labs across Canada.”

According to Animal Alliance, pound seizure (releasing shelter animals for research) is still legal in Ontario; and Quebec law remains silent on the issue, so “…contractors supply lost pet animals to research in the absence of any legal requirement to do so.”  In other provinces where the law is silent on the issue of pound seizure but where researchers seek out lost pets, municipalities refuse to supply those pets for experimental purposes..

2007 statistics from the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) show, “…of the 4,243 cats used in experiments, 3,170 came from pounds, a staggering 75%. For the same year, 6,005 or 52% of the 11,483 dogs came from pounds.”

Although it’s not something they’d brag about, and it is undoubtedly a law that in repugnant to most Canadians, there is a difference in Canadian and United States law that may shock most Americans. 

Under Canada's Wildlife Act, there is no law against selling and serving canine meat, including dogs, if it is killed and gutted in front of federal inspectors.

In a 2002-2006 on-line poll, 33.72% of responders voted “Yes” to the question, “Should Canadians increase their consumption of dog meat?”

Time to start serious follow up on Los Angeles animal-shelter transports?

After months of allowing helpless animals to be crammed into cargo vans and trucks and sent to far-away places, recently GM Brenda Barnette and the L.A. Animal Services Commission admitted there may be a problem and decided that if authorized rescuers take animals from City shelters and hand them off to someone else through transport, they must sign that it is a “no kill” organization.  But they did not add a provision for how that is to be determined or followed up.

Rescue or just moving them around?

So, if shelters and "no kill" grroups  are merely transporting or re-transporting unadopted or unadoptable animals to another facility in another state or country, is this really “RESCUE?”

Or has it become a shell game to avoid being the one that may ultimately have to euthanize the animals that break down under the stress of long-term confinement and/or repeated relocation?


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