PITTSFIELD (AP) – People in Maine and across the nation opened their homes to pets abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, but disease-ridden dogs are now threatening the health of pets in Maine, officials say.

The dogs, which are being blamed for bringing canine distemper into Maine, are coming into the state by the vanload and they’re being purchased by well-meaning rescue groups with no questions asked.

“We haven’t seen distemper here in years,” said Norma Worley, director of Maine’s Animal Welfare Division.

Worley refers to the dogs as “parking lot dogs” because that’s where the transactions take place. Mainers have paid as much as $400 cash for the dogs, which arrive twice a month in vans. Most of the imported animals have not been vaccinated against various diseases, including rabies, she said.

“These are people with good hearts who unfortunately in trying to rescue one dog are endangering thousands of Maine dogs,” Worley said.

According to state law, all dogs and cats imported from out of state for retail must have health certificates and be properly quarantined to ensure they are in good health before they are adopted or sold.

But the rules don’t apply to private transactions.

Worley is seeking to change that with a proposed emergency rule change. “That would allow us to require more than just immunization records and would give us the ability to quarantine the dogs immediately. No more parking lot handovers,” she said.

It’s important for people to be informed before buying a pet. Worley said she knows of one pet owner who spent more than $5,000 on medical care for a parking lot dog; another paid $3,000 for health care only to have the dog die.

“We are seeing some extremely, extremely sick pups,” Worley said.

Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangornews.com

AP-ES-05-26-07 1354EDT

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