Buyer beware: Lack of regulation of dog rescues puts more burden on adoptive owners

With no formal regulation or tracking of rescue dogs across state lines, there’s no way to know how many potentially dangerous dogs are being brought into Washington for adoption.

“Most of these (rescues) aren’t regulated in any shape, form or fashion,” said Susanne Beauregard, director of Thurston County Animal Services.

Animal welfare experts say that puts more responsibility on potential dog adopters to do their own research and make sure they know what they’re getting into with a rescue dog.

Interstate movement of dogs is one of the areas that is largely unregulated.

Professional transport companies must register with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they aren’t required to make detailed disclosures about animals they transport.

Most rescued animals are taken across state lines by volunteers using private vehicles, and these individuals don’t have to register, according to Tanya Espinosa, USDA animal plant health inspection service spokeswoman.

The state Department of Agriculture has regulations about the health of animals crossing state lines, but little enforcement is done to ensure the rules are met.

Animals must have a health certificate from a certified veterinarian showing a rabies vaccination and proof the animal doesn’t have heartworm, said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Mike Louisell.

Volunteer transports for rescue organizations are not inspected to make sure people follow the rules.

“We don’t go to animal rescue shelters just to check things out to see how they’re doing,” Louisell said. “If we are made aware that proper health certificates are not being issued, we would consider that an issue and there would be some fines.”

Enforcement against dangerous dogs typically doesn’t happen unless an animal shows up on local law enforcement radar.

In cases when animal control agencies declare dogs to be dangerous or potentially dangerous, state law requires owners to limit the animals’ interaction with the public. That includes posting warnings, humanely muzzling the dog, keeping it in a confined area and away from other animals or people. It also requires owners to notify animal control authorities if they move.

But state law doesn’t require rescues to disclose to potential adoptive households whether a dog has shown aggressive behavior in the past.

So how do future owners interested in a rescue dog know they aren’t getting a dangerous animal?

Legitimate rescues will share a dog’s history, including past aggression, Beauregard said.

Ultimately it falls to potential dog owners to do their homework, she said.

Longtime dog trainer Jim Elder of Tenino said rescue dogs require hard work and training.

“If you’re going to do it, it’s an honorable thing,” he said of adopting rescued dogs. “You can find nice dogs.”

Related stories from The Olympian