Friday, September 22, 2017

Looking to adopt a rescue dog or cat? Check the paperwork

Dr. Brian Joseph
State Veterinarian

Many people, moved by the magnitude of dogs and cats made homeless by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, may be considering adopting a rescue pet impacted by the storms.

As a veterinarian and dog and cat owner, I can appreciate and support this. Washington has the reputation of welcoming pets facing hardships.

I also know that animals need medical attention such as health exams and vaccinations for rabies, heartworm and other maladies that can spread to other dogs and cats they mingle with and even put human health in jeopardy.

It is important that this veterinary attention take place before the animals enter our state. No one wants to see a dog or cat they’ve adopted become sick, and put other pets or people at risk from a preventable disease. The health of your family is important and needs to be protected.

Tips for dog adopters
So what should a prospective pet owner do to protect themselves, other pets in Washington and their own potential pet? Key tips include:
Photo: Courtesy of Regional Animal Services of King County

  • If you’re adopting an animal from out of state, ask to see travel and vaccination documents. These are required for dogs and cats entering Washington.
  • If you suspect forged documents, call WSDA at (360) 902-1878 or the veterinarian who signed the certificate. If there is no signature, call the listed clinic. The health certificate may not be genuine.
  • Learn as much as possible about the animal’s prior ownership and history. 
  • Research the pet rescue group you’re adopting from and talk to others who have adopted from them.
  • If possible, keep your newly adopted pet separated from other animals in your house for two weeks.
  • If your new pet appears ill, seek veterinary assistance from your local veterinary practitioner.
  • Some local health authorities, such as Public Health – Seattle & King County, recommend checking if the pet rescue group has a permit to operate. Public Health inspects pet businesses like shelters and pet stores to make sure animals are kept in conditions that limit the spread of disease. This helps ensure your new pet is as healthy as possible, and that workers and customers are also protected. 
Documentation is vital 
Washington has rules for importing animals that cover many different animals, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and zoo animals. The list is extensive but the goal is to safeguard animals in our state. Here are a few of the rules we enforce for consumer protection and health reasons, rules that rescue groups must also follow:
  • Dogs entering Washington need a certificate of veterinary inspection certifying it is current on rabies vaccination. State law also prohibits dogs from entry if they come from areas under quarantine for rabies. Dogs less than three months old do not need a rabies vaccination.
  • Dogs six months or older must test negative for heartworm.
  • Cats entering Washington also need a certificate of veterinary inspection. They do not require heartworm testing and cats less than three months old do not need a rabies immunization. 
  • Penalties up to $1,000 can be assessed if a person transports animals into Washington without valid health certificates, permits or other documents required by law. 
What to look for in official documents 
Whether the document or official health record is called a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection or an Official Small Animal Health Certificate--or similar names--the information is vital for disease control and investigations if necessary. The document should include:
  • Where the animal is coming from - the "Animal traveling or shipped from" section should include a name, street address, city, state and zip code.
  • Where the animal is going - the "Animal traveling or shipped to" section should also include name, street address, city, state and zip code.
  • The species, breed, sex, and age of the animal.
  • Color of the pet or markings to help identify the animal.
  • Rabies immunization information including vaccine type, manufacturer, tag number and date of vaccination. (Washington exempts this requirement for cats and dogs that are under three months old).
  • Name of accredited veterinarian and the veterinarian's signature.
  • Business address of the accredited veterinarian and phone number.
  • The date the form was filled out.
  • The veterinarian's National Accreditation Number (NAN).
Any other important information should be included in the remarks section of the form.

Working together to protect animal health
Like other states, we’ve had some problems with imported companion animals entering Washington in the past, such as some coming in with fraudulent or inaccurate documentation.

We appreciate the efforts of animal control agencies, health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the animal rescue groups we have worked with to ensure animal health is protected.

Taking in a pet is a significant decision. At WSDA, we want to help ensure that the animal you adopt is healthy and the health of other pets in our state is protected for everyone else.