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Dogs at the LADA animal shelter in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Jun. 26.Scott Olson/Getty Images

A coming ban on commercial dogs, including rescue dogs, from more than 100 countries is necessary to prevent the spread of rabies in Canada, says the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, but an animal-protection organization insists that less-restrictive measures should be taken.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced earlier this summer that as of Sept. 28 – World Rabies Day – commercial dogs from countries at high-risk for dog rabies will no longer be permitted entry into Canada.

Although there are no known active cases of dog rabies in the country, the CFIA says, canines with the disease were imported into Canada last year, prompting the ban. Nearly 60,000 people die each year from dog rabies in the countries covered by the ban, according to the CFIA. Afghanistan, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Pakistan and Russia are just a few of the countries on the list.

“The level of emphasis and level of degree of control must be related to the level of concern. And when we’re dealing with a disease that essentially results in 100-per-cent fatality for people who get it, that’s pretty significant,” said Louis Kwantes, immediate past president of the veterinary medical association and still active member of the organization.

An outright ban, however, will likely mean many dogs that can’t find homes in Canada will be euthanized in their home countries, said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, an Ottawa-based animal-protection organization. The ban, she said, could result in more puppy mills in Canada, and so should be replaced with more stringent vaccination requirements and antibody testing.

“There’s a lot of Canadian-based rescues that work with international partners who are facing total shutdown because of this ban,” Ms. Labchuk said.

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A petition launched by the organization to overturn the ban has so far collected more than 32,000 signatures online.

Commercial dogs can include, but are not limited to, dogs for resale, adoption, fostering, breeding, show or exhibition, research, and other purposes, according to the CFIA.

While dogs have been known to arrive in Canada with falsified vaccination records, Ms. Labchuk said verification could be enhanced to make sure dogs have in fact been properly vaccinated against rabies.

Antibody testing could also be done, she said.

“We all know so much about this now because of COVID. But you can do a blood test to make sure that the dogs who receive the vaccine developed antibodies to be 100-per-cent sure that their rabies-free,” Ms. Labchuk said.

Canada could also introduce a quarantine period for dogs coming from high-risk countries, a requirement that the U.S. has adopted, she says.

However, these measures would likely be too costly and too logistically difficult to implement, Dr. Kwantes said.

“There would be a significant time factor, there would be a significant cost. And there also would be the requirement to make sure that we know that the proper vaccine is used, and it’s properly administered. So that’s a lot more demanding,” he said.

Susan Patterson, who runs a Vancouver-based dog-rescue agency, said she supports the ban.

“Vaccine fraud is a huge, huge problem,” she said. “I’m hoping that as a result of [the ban] that other organizations will become more accountable.”

Tracy Tien, co-founder of Vancouver’s CooGo Rescue Foundation, says she will no longer be able to rescue dogs from China, one of the countries covered by the ban. Her organization will continue to bring over dogs from Taiwan, her main source of rescue dogs.

While she supports the ban as a way to control the potential spread of disease, Ms. Tien would like to see it reviewed.

“A year is a good time to review the policy and see if there’s funding to do more of a control and regulation [approach] instead of an outright ban,” she said.

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