Animal advocates in Rhode Island appear to be on different pages regarding House Bill 7888, which would place dogs being imported to the state in a mandatory 48-hour quarantine before a veterinary examination to obtain a health certificate.
On one hand, local advocacy group Defenders of Animals and a group of Rhode Island shelters and animal organizations asked for the bill to be submitted. On the other hand, Friends of Homeless Animals (FOHA) and other rescue and adoption organizations have created a petition to strike down the bill, calling it unnecessary and counteractive to regulations already in place from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
According to Dennis Tabella of Defenders of Animals, the intent of the measure is to stop amateur rescuers from bringing sick animals from kill shelters in the south to Rhode Island for adoption. It also is aimed to encourage people to adopt from state shelters already filled with dogs that need homes.
“We have to concentrate on getting these dogs adopted,” said Tabella. “We’re trying to get Rhode Island to be a no-kill state, and that is never going to happen if we keep bringing in dogs from other states.”
Sponsored on the advocates’ behalf by Representative Stephen Ucci, the bill calls for any dog, with the exception of purebreds, to have a minimum isolation period of 48 hours in an approved facility, after which a vet will examine the dog and report in writing that the dog is in good health, free of infectious disease and physical abnormalities that would endanger the animal, and not from an area exposed to or quarantined for rabies. If the dog does not meet those standards, it will go back into quarantine to await a second exam.
“The issue is to make sure these animals are healthy and treated properly,” said Ucci. “We have to protect those that can’t protect themselves.”
Heidi Durand-Lenz, the Rhode Island compliance coordinator for FOHA, explained this bill adds unnecessary regulations to those rescuers (such as FOHA) who follow United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) carrier regulations and reduces the regulations from DEM for those who use volunteers to transport animals into the state.
Durand-Lenz said the process for USDA carriers requires a dog be taken out of the shelter and placed in quarantine in veterinary clinics in the South for 14 days, during which time they are monitored for illness and temperament testing.
“We’re getting to know the dogs,” said Durand-Lenz.
During that 14-day period, the dogs are vetted, receive all of their shots, are spayed or neutered, and other medical needs are addressed (if any). The dog will receive their certificate of veterinarian inspection before they are even on the carrier and headed to Rhode Island.
If a volunteer brings a dog into the state, DEM requires a five-day quarantine before a veterinary inspection.
These regulations were put in place after a study by State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall in 2012. A mandatory five-day quarantine was put in place for dogs coming into Rhode Island on an emergency basis in April 2012.
“We were seeing a dramatic increase in sick dogs coming from southern states,” said Marshall.
Backlash caused Marshall to work with local rescues to create better permanent regulations. Two categories of rescues were established: Category A and Category B.
“One included those rescues who conduct tremendous health checks and they represent a very low risk, versus those who just pull the animals out of shelters,” said Marshall.
Category A rescues adhere to the USDA 14-day quarantine, are excused from the DEM five-day, and are approved to directly place the rescued animal with a foster or adoptive family. Category B rescues do not use USDA carriers, and therefore must place their dogs in a DEM-approved facility for five-days.
In the petition against the bill, Friends of Homeless Animals says this bill could expose dogs already vetted through USDA regulations to potentially sick dogs, implies purebreds do not carry disease, reduces choice in dogs leading to more Internet sales and breeders in the state, puts a financial strain of up to $100 a day on rescuers, jeopardizes public health by reducing DEM’s five-day quarantine to two, and gives puppy mills and breeders an unfair advantage.
According to Durand-Lenz, licensed rescues should not be punished with more regulations when they are following strict guidelines to save lives already.
“They want to take dogs from areas that are high-kill to areas where there is a demand for adoption,” she said.
A supporter of FOHA’s petition is Louise Nicolosi, a licensed veterinary physical therapist and owner of the non-profit Always Adopt. Nicolosi works with rescues and shelters throughout the state to set up large-scale adoption events.
“In my experience, every single dog [at one of her events] has been healthy and has never broken down from any illness, ever,” she said.
Nicolosi says this legislation is unnecessary.
“[This legislation] is offering even less than we have now. That immediately makes the legislation ridiculous,” said Nicolosi.
She added that it appears those who proposed the legislation have no idea what the current regulations are.
Tabella said this legislation is in no way intended to hurt those rescuers who follow USDA carrier guidelines or DEM regulations. It is an attempt to catch those who duck the system by meeting in neighboring states to deliver dogs, or who simply slip past DEM.
“The state vet, they’re a small staff. They can’t control everything,” said Tabella. “I don’t think DEM has the man power.”
The bill states the mandatory 48-hour quarantine would be added to General Law Chapter 4-13, but does not name who would be responsible for monitoring or what punishment for failing to comply would be.
Marshall estimates the state has 50 properly licensed rescues and 10 properly licensed carriers; if an unlicensed entity is discovered, they receive a cease and desist order.
“They generally either come into compliance or we get correspondence that they didn’t know about the regulations and they won’t operate in Rhode Island anymore,” said Marshall. “We found very few that have been more difficult.”
The registration helps to protect both the consumer and the animal; in the event of an issue with the animal, DEM has the ability to track where and whom it came from.
“By and large I think the regulations have been successful,” said Marshall.
He says there are four or five issues reported a year compared to three each week before regulations.
According to Tabella, despite the regulations, there are still sick dogs being brought into the state.
“There are plenty of dogs in Rhode Island already,” said Tabella, questioning why people would not save local animals first. Then, when the local population is under control, focus can shift to saving dogs across the country.
He also says those licensed rescuers who follow USDA or DEM regulations would not have to adhere to the 48-hour hold.
“If they’re already doing it and they’re doing it longer than 48 hours, they don’t have to worry about it,” said Tabella. “Some of these groups are doing things right. It’s the amateurs we’re after.”
Ucci hopes this legislation will add to what is already in place. “We want to make sure we don’t take away from any of the hard work that’s already been done. Hopefully that will all be fleshed out in the hearings,” said Ucci, who predicted a hearing in the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee in the next few weeks.
Marshall, on the other hand, believes this legislation will weaken the system. Calling for a two-day quarantine adds to those who follow USDA, but more importantly, decreases the care for dogs under DEM regulations.
Marshall explained five days was decided upon because some diseases need longer to manifest symptoms, such as canine parvo virus and canine distemper. If the quarantine is reduced, a lot more sick animals could pass through the system.
“I don’t think they’re very in tune to what’s going on in the animal community,” said Marshall. “If this department is going to take a position on [this legislation], we will oppose it.”
Part of the dispute regarding this legislation is likely the fact that it is very unclear.
“It’s so ambiguous,” said Durand-Lenz, pointing out that it doesn’t say if it will supersede DEM regulations or if those who adhere to DEM standards will have to follow them.
“There’s a lot of open-ended questions, and we haven’t had an easy time getting answers,” she said.
One such question is the need to place the dog in facilities approved by the state; according to Durand-Lenz, no such facility exists. Rescuers would have to pay up to $35 a day to keep the dog boarded, plus any additional vet fees if a second certificate were to be required.
The other concern is the exemption of purebred dogs from this mandatory quarantine.
“It’s as if they’re saying purebred dogs carry less disease than mixed-breed, which is ridiculous,” said Nicolosi. “It’s discriminatory.”
Tabella admits the purebred exception was not from the groups that requested the legislation; he believes that was added by legal during the drafting phase.
“When a hearing occurs, we will request that be taken out,” he said.
Ucci said he has received many emails from people with concerns regarding this legislation and hopes they come to a future hearing so concerns can be addressed.
“It is important, if they have concerns, to make their concerns known at hearings. That’s why we have hearings,” he said.
Durand-Lenz pointed out that rescuers are not opposed to regulations.
“We’re not trying to fight this. We support regulations,” she said, given that the regulations are meaningful and effective. “With no regulations, it becomes a free-for-all.”
More so, she and other advocates are looking for clarification and answers.
House Bill 7888 was introduced on March 6 and referred to House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare; no hearing is scheduled.