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September 22, 2019

8/15/2019 7:26:00 AM
Proposed dog rules could endanger thousands of canines, group says
DATCP says rules are necessary for public health

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

The Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) and other shelters across Wisconsin say they are vociferously opposed to newly proposed rules by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), which they believe will have a devastating effect on homeless dogs and Wisconsin families.

Specifically, the proposed rules would require negative brucellosis (Brucella canis) and heart-worm tests before homeless dogs can be transported into the state.

According to the Humane Society, canine brucellosis is a bacterial infection which does not affect lifespan or long-term quality of life, but causes infections of the reproductive system, such as sexually transmitted diseases.

It is rare in shelters, the transmission risk is very low, and it is not a fatal disease like rabies, the Humane Society contends.

"The testing requirement may sound reasonable on the surface, but it could eliminate our state's ability to save puppies and dogs from overcrowded shelters or natural disaster zones outside state lines," Anne Reed, president and CEO of WHS, said.

What's more, Reed said, Brucella canis testing has a high false-positive rate and requires additional time and money, and so source shelters with limited funding would likely have to euthanize dogs or transfer them to other states rather than test the dogs.

Last year alone, Reed said, Wisconsin families adopted nearly 2,900 dogs transferred to WHS from other states, and the proposed regulation would deprive thousands more from finding homes in the state.

"We would welcome the opportunity to work with the state to create common-sense regulations that protect Wisconsin animals," she said. "The minimal risk of brucellosis transmission does not justify the impact of these broad proposed regulations."

The WHS believes there would be multiple consequences if the rules are approved. For one thing, the group states, the rule would derail a lifesaving pathway for dogs in need.

"Because most transported dogs come from shelters with few resources, the testing will be a barrier to dogs finding lifesaving transport to Wisconsin," WHS said. "Source shelters will likely have to euthanize otherwise healthy puppies and dogs if they are unable to find placement elsewhere."

In addition, WHS states, the test results are often inaccurate.

"Screening tests for brucellosis produce a false positive at a rate as high as 60%, so testing does not give an accurate picture of a dog's health status and will block healthy dogs from lifesaving transport to Wisconsin," the group states. "In addition, many states require dogs who test positive for Brucella canis to be euthanized, so some of these dogs will not actually have the disease and will be needlessly euthanized."

What's more, the rule represents an overreaction to very little transmission risk, WHS states.

"Brucella canis is largely transmitted through sexual contact between dogs and through giving birth," the group states. "It's possible for a human to contract it, most often through handling reproductive tissues, but it's exceedingly rare."

Finally, WHS states, WHS and coalition shelters spay/neuter dogs prior to adoption, significantly reducing the risk of transmission.

"Heart worm does not pose a risk to people, and published guidelines by the American Heart Worm Society recognize transporting dogs with heart worms as a lifesaving activity and provides guidelines for how to transport heart-worm positive dogs to control its spread," the group states.

There's also an impact to Wisconsin's families, Reed said.

"Thousands of Wisconsin families adopt southern puppies and dogs from Wisconsin shelters every year," WHS stated. "These dogs enrich their lives every day, and these rules will impact our ability to meet Wisconsin families' desire for animal companionship, which will drive them to puppy mills and disreputable sources. Wisconsin should not be choosing regulations that have the unintended consequence of supporting these operations and putting dogs and consumers at greater risk."

Finally, WHS contends, the rules will divert transport to substandard organizations.

"Irresponsible groups already ignore rules for dog transport across state lines, and these groups are less likely to have practices in place to control disease and to spay/neuter animals prior to placement, which is one of the best tools to prevent the spread of Brucella canis," WHS stated. "The new rules will drive transport further underground to substandard organizations, increasing health risks for Wisconsin's animals."

DATCP responds

After WHS released its comments, DATCP responded to many media outlets with its own statement defending the proposed rule.

"The proposed rule about testing dogs prior to bringing them to Wisconsin is to protect animal health in our state," the DATCP said in the statement. "It is also to protect consumers from purchasing potentially infected animals that may not be showing signs of disease. This reduces the risk of spreading disease in our state and some of these diseases, like canine brucellosis, are also a disease that puts people at risk because they can get it from animals."

On its website, the DATCP points to a case earlier this year in which two dogs in Wisconsin tested positive for canine brucellosis. Due to exposure to the source of the infection, several animal shelters and private homes that adopted the exposed dogs were placed under quarantine, the department reported.

If the rule had been in place and the dogs had been tested, DATCP stated, the disease would not have spread to multiple shelters and to people who adopted the dogs.

According to the department, a national rescue organization imported a group of dogs from South Korea to Canada.

"Some of these dogs were then imported to Wisconsin with proper documentation," the DATCP website states. "After the dogs were in Wisconsin, it was discovered that one of the dogs that had died in Canada tested positive for canine brucellosis. DATCP contacted the rescue organization who provided the names of the shelters where the dogs had been sent. DATCP learned that the majority of the dogs had been adopted, and notified adopters and shelters that still had the dogs that testing for canine brucellosis was needed."

As a result of those tests, two were confirmed positive.

For those places quarantined, the quarantines will be removed when test results are confirmed negative. The dogs must be tested at least two more times with 30-45 days between tests, DATCP states.

"For the two dogs confirmed positive, one dog was euthanized and the other is under a life-long quarantine," the DATCP website states. "Under this type of quarantine, an owner can only move the dog for veterinary care after informing the district state veterinarian."

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at

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