Darwin Robinson adopted his golden lab Carly four years ago, something he did out of love. But Robinson soon found himself experiencing firsthand the painful side of what state records indicate is an estimated multi-million dollar industry.
“Shame on them, they’re doing it for the money. They’re not doing it for the animal,” said Robinson.
Carly had been brought into town by an out-of-state rescue with dozens of other animals.
“It was like going to a school bus and the animals were in aquariums. Carly was bigger than normal,” he recalled.
A day after adopting her, Robinson realized Carly wasn’t out of the woods.
“She was acting lethargic,” said Robinson.
He said Carly was so sick she almost died. But when he told the rescue Carly was ill, he was unhappy with their response.
“I was really chipped off they would let a dog that sick go home,” said Darwin, “They were no help at all. I’m sure they go through thousands of dogs every year but this dog was important to us.”
Terry Rodgers is an animal transporter from Georgia who brings rescue dogs to Connecticut in the hopes that they’ll find loving homes here. Rodgers said she doesn’t earn a profit from her work, but told us some transporters have turned animal rescue into a money maker–one that can come at the cost of the pet’s health.
“The bigger ones they’re doing it as a business,” she said, “So the more dogs they can fill in the more money they make.”
“You’re charging $150, $200 a dog to transport, some people charge a lot more than that. That adds up pretty quickly,” added Rodgers.
It’s something that sparked concern among state officials. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Ray Connors said the situation got bad a few years ago.
“It was kind of a free for all. Anybody could come in adopt animals and go. They would set up in a parking lot anywhere in the state on a Saturday and put a sign out and say we have dogs for adoption. People would pay [cash] for the dogs and the people were gone,” said Connors, “That’s no more than dog trafficking at that point is what I feel.”
So the state passed stricter laws. The guidelines stipulate that anyone bringing in rescues from out-of-state has to apply for a license with the Department of Agriculture, and a Connecticut veterinarian has to clear the pet’s health within two days of getting here.
Nonprofit transporters are not licensed by the State Department of Agriculture. Only the rescue groups who receive the animals or contract with the transporters are licensed as importers.
Meanwhile, the number of rescues imported into Connecticut grows.
There’s no easy way to track the numbers, including who is bringing animals into the state, where they’re coming from, and where they end up. So the Troubleshooters put the pieces together by pouring over state records, and what we found surprised state officials. Last year, importers brought in 14,138 animals from close to 30 states.
The biggest contributors were Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Alabama.
Health & High Fees
“Our goal is to get the public to adopt rather than shopping. We’d rather have you adopt than go to a pet store,” said Dog Days Adoption Events President and CEO Lorin Liesenfelt.
She organizes adoption events for importers, and sets high standards for them.
“All age appropriate shots and vaccinations. We require deworming three weeks before the event,” said Liesenfelt of her requirements, “They have to be micro-chipped and they also have to have a veterinary check once a week.”
Liesenfelt said she’s strict because some of what she’s seeing concerns her, including high fees that go beyond vet care coverage.
“I’ve noticed in the last year, two years there are some people that do this and they make a lot of money,” said Liesenfelt, “If you’re bringing up thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty puppies a month, that’s great if you’re rescuing from a kill shelter. But if you’re charging $550, that seems a little high to me. If you’re not doing a home visit to make sure that they’re in the right home, I have to question how that’s responsible.”
“When you go in and see a van that takes crates out, and takes crates out, and takes crates out to get to this dog back here, you tell me how if that dog is in distress how you’re going to know and get to it,” said Rodgers, who is a transporter for a rescue that works with Dog Days.
She showed us the van she transports dogs in, explaining that it was well ventilated, clean, and had plenty of room for the dogs she transports. But Rodgers said other transporters don’t take as much care.
“I looked at their van and that was the last time we transported for that particular shelter,” she said.
Rodgers pointed out that even some rescues may turn a blind eye.
“Unfortunately we’ve actually worked with a shelter down in South Georgia,” she explained, “Some of the puppies they brought were underage.”
“We finally just had to say ‘we cannot transport till you get your act together,’” said Rodgers.
Veterinarian Dr. Arnold Goldman helped write the “animal importers” law that’s now on the books. He believes it’s helping.
“I think the intent is just to ensure that healthy animals arrive here,” said Dr. Goldman.
What You Need to Know
So what should you keep in mind if you’re rescuing a dog or cat?
• Experts say make sure the rescue organization is registered with the State. (You can do that through the State E-license lookup from your smart phone.)
• Get your new pet’s medical history—the rescue should have those papers.
• Remember, the animal has to be checked by a Connecticut veterinarian before being adopted out.
Robinson now advises fellow adopters to take those steps, but he has no regrets
“She rescued us,” he said of Carly.