Right now when law makers should be working on instituting laws that crack down on animal abusers and puppy mills, it looks like they are spending their time trying to institute new laws that are going to hurt rescuers and the dogs they are trying so desperately to save.

Many of the northern states have a shortage of ‘adoptable’ dogs and puppies while the southern states have a glut of them. Many of the southern state will hold a dog for just one day before euthanizing it. Rescuers are trying to save these dogs by bringing them north to families that are waiting to adopt them.

Norma Worley, director of Maine’s Animal Welfare Division is trying to institute a new rule that will require all ‘imported dogs’ to be placed under quarantine for 5-days. Worley’s reasoning is that disease-laden dogs arriving in Maine are threatening the health of pets and she attributes this to the ‘parking lot dogs’, dogs that rescuers are bringing in and meeting with adopters in parking lots.

Now a 5-day quarantine doesn’t sound like a big deal but rescues are not shelters and they do not have the facilities to quarantine the dogs.  This new rule will shut down legitimate rescues and drive up adoption rates from questionable sources.

About 30 rescue groups operating in Maine would be affected by the proposals, which would require quarantines that most rescue groups, operating on shoestring budgets, cannot afford. Quarantines now are completed at the out-of-state shelters that provide the dogs.

Maine’s rescue groups are banding together to fight the rule changes, which they say will result in the deaths of thousands of dogs.

One of the leaders of the opposition is Chris Hanson of Hollis, who founded Almost Home Rescue of Maine, the group that rescued Saturday’s dogs and coordinates with four shelters in Arkansas.

Using a network of 80 volunteers, Almost Home brings 700 dogs to Maine each year, saving them from euthanasia.

Every Saturday, dozens of dogs are driven north by a U.S. Department of Agriculture carrier to New Hampshire, where Almost Home Rescue volunteers transfer them to their own vans and take them to Maine, where adoptive families are waiting.

Last May, Animal Welfare Division Director Norma Worley blamed these imports for bringing distemper and other diseases into the state.

Not so, said Hanson, who said that for-profit puppy sellers often act under the guise of rescue.

“We are bringing in 700 animals a year, and that is just our group,” she said. “Maine rescuers all together are bringing in more than a thousand. We have never had a dog with parvo[virus] or distemper. How can you rewrite the rules without doing the research?”

Hanson said the Maine rescue groups nearly all import from the South, where shelters hold a dog for adoption for a single day before euthanizing it.

“These dogs are being hawked in supermarket parking lots, used as bait for dog fights …,” Hanson said. She added that most Maine shelters and kennels are half-empty and the dogs that are available are often “bully dogs,” not the type owners want, and especially not puppies.

In the South, many pet owners believe a dog is ruined if it is spayed or neutered, Hanson said, resulting in a serious overpopulation of unwanted pets. Dogs are often abandoned. “Dogs are hit by cars down there like squirrels are up here,” she said. She said New England has one of the country’s most successful spay-neuter programs and “enlightened” pet owners and that adopters often are referred to their local shelters first.

“I’m aware of the rescue groups’ concerns,” Worley said Friday, but said she could not comment on the issue now that the rule-making has begun.

In an interview last month, however, Worley described a very different picture of the “parking lot dogs” than that exhibited this weekend.

Worley said rescuers are using the Web to contact customers and selling the dogs for $400 each. She said those dogs often were not immunized before coming into Maine and that some groups are bringing in 30 dogs, twice a month, and are “getting rich.”

Hanson said she believes that information is false.

Most rescue groups charge about $250, which barely covers expenses, she said.

“It costs $125 just for the transport truck,” Hanson said. “Then add in all the veterinarian bills. Our dogs come to Maine spayed, neutered, after quarantine and immunized. Rescuers don’t work for profit.”

Hanson said the issue of sick dogs being imported “has been blown way out of proportion. Maybe the state didn’t realize how much we were doing.” It was her understanding that only three cases of distemper have been found and that there is no direct link between those dogs and rescue groups. Worley would not confirm this.

The dogs being imported are also providing thousands of dollars in revenue for the Animal Welfare Division in license fees.

Hanson said the only way to monitor the health of dogs coming into the state is to create a license system for rescue groups. “We would absolutely be in favor of such a system, but it is not even being considered as part of the new rules,” she said. Responsible groups are following the rules already, she added, while those skirting the law will fail to participate anyway.

In the month since Worley’s public comments, Hanson said, Maine adoptions have plummeted.

“Maine accounted for 70 percent of our adoptions each week until Norma Worley spoke out. Now that is about 10 percent. What she said is really damaging us,” Hanson said. “It is so important to us [rescuers] that we have some say in these changes.”

A coalition has been formed, Responsible Maine Rescuers United, to fight the rule change. Some of the participating Maine groups include Almost Home Rescue, Golden Retriever Rescue Lifeline, Loyal Hearts Puppy Rescue, Paws and Claws, Journey Home Dog Rescue, Dogs Deserve Better, Maine Coonhound Rescue, and Kennebec Valley Shetland Sheepdog Rescue. (Bangor Daily News)

The Maine Agriculture Department has set a public hearing on the proposed rule changes for 10 a.m. Monday, July 16, at the Maine Public Safety building off Civic Center Drive in Augusta.

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In my opinion, this rule as an idea is not necessarily a bad idea but there needs to be modifications and exemption for responsible rescuers.  As the articles states, ‘Responsible groups are following the rules already, while those skirting the law will fail to participate anyway.’ This is the same problem too often faced with sweeping reforms and changes, more often then not, those who will be affected the most are those who are responsible while the ones it needs to target will continue to operate outside the laws as they already do.

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