Rescue groups: Proposed rules too strict

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AUGUSTA – Animal rescue workers are concerned that proposed rules designed to mitigate infectious diseases in dogs and cats from out of state are too stringent, and could force shelters to close.

About 40 animal lovers turned out for a public hearing Monday in front of officials from the state Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Program to address rules that would mandate vaccinations and a holding period for any dog or cat coming into Maine.

The proposed rules extend all guidelines in place for dog sales and dog adoptions. They would require that all individuals bringing animals into the state must have a permit, and have the animals tested and vaccinated for a variety of diseases.

Many Maine shelters and rescue groups bring dogs in from southern states, which have an overpopulation. Animal welfare officials have said previously that there has been an increase in Maine of out-of-state dogs arriving with diseases. It wasn’t the reputable adoption groups, but rather “parking lot adoptions” that were causing most of the problems.

The most contentious of the guidelines is that imported dogs and cats must be held for five days in “an isolation facility approved by the commissioner.” That was the extent of the definition, and the lack of clarity concerned many.

“Our rescue, like most, does not have the physical or financial ability to place our dogs in a commissioner-approved isolation facility for five days, nor would we want to expose our dogs to other dogs coming from unknown shelters and rescue groups,” said Susanna Richer, Portland-area representative for the Dogs Deserve Better rescue group.

After the meeting, Shelley Doak, director of the Division of Animal Health and Industry within the Department of Agriculture, said the definition was left vague on purpose, to avoid overregulation.

“It’s hard to do a one size fits all,” Doak said. “We want people to be compliant.”

Marla J. McCormick, president of Mini Aussie Rescue and Support, also said there’s a possibility of overvaccinating dogs by requiring them to be vaccinated again after they already had been vaccinated before coming to Maine.

Patty Lovell, manager of the Franklin County Animal Shelter, said the proposed rules would not affect her organization, but she could attest to the need for the law. The shelter is overcrowded, so it does not take in dogs from out of state. She said the shelter has had many people drop off animals with diseases originating out of state. In some cases the shelter has been able to treat the animal.

Doak said that all the input from rescue groups will be taken into consideration as department officials craft final rules. People have until July 25 to submit public comment to the department, and a decision will be made in the coming months.

Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, said she has heard concern from rescue groups in her district over the proposed rules.

“Be very careful where you go,” she said. “Sometimes you make changes that have reverse actions.”

Melanie Crane of the Golden Retriever Rescue of Maine pointed out that most rescue groups work on a shoestring budget.

“The only reason we do it is to save lives,” Crane said.

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