A surge in pet adoptions has increased demand for dogs imported from around the world. Most are fine, but federal officials turned up 450 dogs in 2020 with false records — 50% more than in 2019.



Now we turn to a story about fake vaccination papers for puppies. The U.S. is banning the importation of dogs from more than 100 countries for at least a year because of a sharp increase in the number of puppies imported with fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Lots of us adopted puppies during the pandemic to keep us company as we hunkered down to hide from the coronavirus. Most of those puppies are probably fine, but Dr. Emily Pieracci at the CDC says some of them apparently didn't get their rabies shots

EMILY PIERACCI: In 2020, during the COVID-19 disease pandemic, CDC intervened in more than 450 cases in which dogs that arrived in the U.S. had falsified or fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates.

STEIN: That's a 52% increase compared to the previous two years and was probably an unintended consequence of the big rush on puppies.

PIERACCI: Early on in the pandemic, the shelters were reporting record low numbers because everybody was adopting pandemic puppies. And so there is a possibility that there may have been a correlation between empty shelters here driving an increased demand to purchase puppies from overseas.

STEIN: Which may have attracted unscrupulous dog dealers to cut corners, especially in places where the pandemic disrupted rabies vaccination programs.

PIERACCI: And so given the impact that COVID has had on vaccination programs around the world, we're not sure what the rabies landscape is going to look like in the future. But we are definitely concerned that there could be an increased risk of importing a rabid dog.

STEIN: And that could be the last thing the U.S. needs right now - another really nasty virus.

PIERACCI: Rabies is one of the deadliest zoonotic diseases, accounting for an estimated 59,000 human deaths globally each year. And that equates to about one human death every nine minutes. Rabies is nearly always fatal once a person begins to experience symptoms.

STEIN: Now almost all those deaths happen in other countries. Dogs' rabies has been eliminated in the United States. The only cases that occur in this country come from wild animals, like raccoons and skunks. But the U.S. imports about 1 million dogs a year. So starting on July 14, the CDC is banning the importation of any dogs from 113 countries considered at high risk for rabies - mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

PIERACCI: We're doing this to make sure that we protect the health and safety of dogs that are imported into the United States, as well as making sure that we protect the public's health against the reintroduction of dog rabies in the United States.

STEIN: The decision is being praised by veterinarians. Dr. Douglas Kratt is president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

DOUGLAS KRATT: If we get a new strain of rabies introduced into the United States, it's just a matter of where it will spread and how fast it will spread - probably not if, but where and how fast.

STEIN: But anyone hoping to adopt a dog shouldn't worry. The banned countries only account for about 6% of all dogs imported each year, and there are still lots of dogs available for adoption in this country. Here's Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club.

JERRY KLEIN: We have plenty of dogs available that need wonderful, loving homes here in the United States of America. There should be no need to go to foreign countries to fill the need for loving homes of dogs and cats in the U.S.A.

STEIN: But not everyone is thrilled about this. Some animal rescue advocates worry that dogs barred from the country will get euthanized. And anyone who got a pandemic puppy might be wondering, do I have to worry about my pooch? Chances are your furry new family member is fine, but it wouldn't hurt to ask your vet. Your dog could get a blood test to check or maybe get another shot like the rest of us, just to be on the safe side.

Rob Stein, NPR News.