Q: I’m having problems with my new French mastiff puppy. I bought him online for my kids from Czechoslovakia but I suspect the breeder shipped him when he was too young to travel. He arrived with a severe infection and almost died on his first day here. The breeder says he was nine weeks old but the veterinarian thinks he was more like six. Can I sue when the breeder is overseas? A: You raise an interesting issue, more so because it’s timely. During December, large numbers of purebred pups are shipped from overseas to meet the insatiable American demand for holiday puppies. Hard stats are unavailable, but it’s estimated that well over more than a million puppies enter the U.S. this way every year. While the law says pups have to be over eight weeks to ship, it’s impossible to know how young these dogs actually are at the time of transport. Since it’s in the breeders’ financial interest to ship well before this age, we suspect that many pets are traveling underage.After all, puppies have to be very young to appeal to most U.S. buyers. That’s why I’ve seen pups who look as young as 4 to 6 weeks arrive via international cargo. All of this adds up to high mortality rates for the ones who actually make it. Unfortunately, we don’t even know how many pups die in transport because no law requires that anyone keep track of deaths during international travel. (By contrast, U.S. domestic carriers diligently record mortality stats.) But the biggest problem with international imports isn’t just the acute sickness and death, it’s the fact that these pups represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animal welfare woes for international imports. Here’s why:▪ In my experience, dogs bought overseas are typically irresponsibly relative to the breed standard. Which inevitably means they’re more likely to suffer from genetic diseases. ▪ For every sick puppy you see on this side of the ocean, there are plenty more who are living in inhumane conditions. Because most countries don’t enjoy the same high animal welfare standards we do, breeders are free to eschew niceties like professional veterinary care and clean drinking water. So are there any legal remedies? Unlikely. Not unless you bought through a third party based in the U.S. –– and even then, it’s tough. My best advice is to check with an attorney who specializes in animal law. Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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