PORTLAND (AP) – A message of responsible dog ownership trumpeted by animal welfare groups has left several animal shelters in southern Maine scrambling to meet a growing demand for puppies.

Deborah Clark, director of the Animal Refuge League of Westbrook, said the shortage is a sign that animal welfare groups are doing their job in spreading the message that owners should neuter or spay their dogs.

“This is exciting and something to be really proud of,” Clark said.

But several animal shelters have been forced to import puppies from other parts of the country to satisfy the demand, a situation animal welfare experts say is occurring throughout the Northeast.

Gone are the days when litters of puppies languished in animal shelters. An unaccompanied dog on the street today draws second looks.

Animal welfare advocates say they may know why.

Steven Jacobsen, director of the Animal Welfare Society Inc. shelter in Kennebunk, said there has been a widespread shift in attitudes toward dog ownership during the past 20 years.

Not only are dog owners neutering their pets, they are taking better care of them. And there are simply fewer dogs being born, he said.

“It has been fairly pronounced in the past few years,” Jacobsen said.

The practice of importing dogs has led to a rift between veterinarians and humane societies in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture has introduced a bill that would ban imported dogs from a state program that subsidizes neutering costs for dogs and cats adopted from shelters. Violators would face a $1,000 fine.

“It is a funny can of worms and I honestly do not know where I sit on it because so many people who want to get a puppy from a shelter can’t find any,” said Jerliee Zezula, a veterinarian and professor of applied animal science at the University of New Hampshire.

For the last several years, the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk has imported puppies and dogs from out of state. The shelter is expecting a shipment of puppies from Tennessee at the end of the month.

The puppies along with some adult dogs will be transported north in a rental van by volunteers, then quarantined before being put up for adoption.

The shelter has also taken in puppies from rural Ohio and South Carolina.

“But we are years away from importing cats,” Jacobsen said.

AP-ES-02-23-04 0216EST

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