In recent years more and more dogs have been rescued from overseas, yet there is very little known about the process of overseas adoption and what happens once they are in a home. This study investigated the reasons people choose to rescue from abroad, the process they used to get the dog, any issues faced when back in the UK and potential welfare problems associated with this practice.
An online questionnaire was advertised on social media and received 3,080 responses from people living in the UK, who had adopted a rescue dog from abroad in the last 5 years. The results showed that participants primarily adopted from abroad because they had come across a particular dog that they wanted, had been refused dogs from UK rescues, or were concerned for the safety of the animal. 1 in 5 of the surveyed dogs had a known health condition and a similar rate of participants suggested that their dog displayed challenging behaviour.
This study provides valuable insight into not only the importation and impact of infectious diseases, but also importation under the incorrect law. It also highlights the successes of international organisations who have been able to secure high adoption rates, which UK equivalents could learn from.
Dogs are typically imported under the PETS legislation, although business transport of animals (including for shelters) is more properly covered under the BALAI directive. Both pieces of legislation are designed to promote human health, and therefore have minimal or no provision for prevention of importation of serious, potentially fatal animal diseases which are exotic to the UK (UK Government, 2016), and some of which are potentially zoonotic. In addition to the impact on the immediate welfare of the dogs, they therefore may pose a risk to other humans or animals. Canine Leishmaniosis has been found to have entered the UK via the importation of rescue dogs (Shaw, Langton, and Hillman, 2009). As the disease may be unfamiliar to many UK vets, if the dogs do become unwell, diagnosis may be hampered, and incorrect or even harmful treatment may be given, and this has caused considerable concern within the veterinary profession (Hunter, 2016). Even if correctly diagnosed, suitable treatments for these diseases may be difficult to access within the UK (Hunter, 2016, Wedderburn, 2016, Silvestrini et al., 2016). It has also been suggested that cross-border rescues may present a risk of rabies transmission (Klevar et al., 2015). Therefore, there are potential risks posed to both animal and human health and more information is required in order to manage these and treat effectively.
Behavioural problems are the most common reason for a failed adoption (Mondelli et al., 2004), in particular fearfulness (Normando et al., 2015). Those likely to be experienced also include straying tendencies, excessive barking, separation problems and dog to dog aggression (Wells and Hepper, 2000). Dogs rescued from abroad are likely to have had critical socialisation period experiences inadequate for preparation for a life in the UK. Given the dramatic lifestyle and cultural changes experienced by dogs imported from overseas, combined with the stress of travel, there is significant potential for behavioural problems to be experienced. This poses a welfare concern to the dog, but also the wellbeing of the adopters. It may even lead to further rehoming or euthanasia.
Finally, the reasons why people adopt from abroad rather than the UK is unknown, but speculation suggests that some people choose to do it because they have been refused UK rescue dogs due to their living conditions or working hours (Moore, 2016). This has welfare implications and requires investigation, particularly considering that vast sums of money may be spent on one dog that could have supported a number of dogs from the UK to find new homes, or indeed been used for humane dog population management initiatives such as neutering and education in the country of origin. In more typical adoptions, decisions appear to be influenced by size, appearance and behaviour (Marston et al., 2005). Research suggests that even the breed label given to a dog influences adoption rates (Gunter et al., 2016). Thus, perceptions and beliefs of potential adopters have significant consequences and are important to understand.