Man bites dog

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  June 20, 2007

I like dogs better than bureaucrats. So, if I were drafting new rules regulating the importation of either one into Maine, I’d want more restrictions on bureaucrats.

That would probably disappoint those of you hoping to adopt a cuddly commissioner, supervisor, or director from a state where they have inadequate spay/neuter programs, resulting in excess numbers of them. But given how bureaucrats have spread viruses — such as the Department of Health and Human Services computer fiasco — wasting diseases — such as the financial decline of northern Maine — and plagues — such as our high tax burden — the only sensible choice would be to impose strict limits on importing them.

Unfortunately, bureaucrats in state government have shown no inclination to regulate the influx of their own kind. Instead, they’re going after the dogs.

The Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health and Industry is about to propose a new rule that would make adopting abandoned dogs from other states — publicized on Web sites such as and brought here by volunteer rescue groups — all but impossible. The regulation would force rescue groups to quarantine those dogs after their arrival in Maine. But none of the groups has a quarantine facility nor the financial resources to start one. They owe their success in saving thousands of dogs destined to be killed in shelters in southern states to operating under a simple system that avoids high-cost facilities and ... uh ... bureaucracy.

Responsible rescuers already quarantine dogs for two weeks, but they do it at veterinary hospitals in the South, where the potential adoptees go through health checks, are given vaccinations, and have their reproductive equipment rendered inoperative. In the last year, I’ve adopted two pooches from Dixie, and I can attest to the care they received and the vets’ reluctance to release any animal in questionable health.

That’s not good enough for Dr. Don Hoenig, the state veterinarian and promulgator of the new rules. “I have no assurance those dogs have been quarantined in the South,” Hoenig said. “We’ve been told of instances of dogs being brought in from the South that were sick.”

How many instances? Hoenig said he’s aware of “two or three,” but added that a comprehensive list is being compiled by Norma Worley, director of the state’s Animal Welfare Program. Except Worley had already told me Hoenig was doing the compiling, which didn’t stop her from making her own assessment of the situation. “We’re seeing diseases we haven’t seen in the state in 20 years,” she said.

Maybe, but the only verifiable information I could squeeze out of the bureaucracy is that some vets — nobody can say how many — have told state officials they’re seeing more cases — nobody is sure how many more — of distemper and parvovirus — diseases that already show up in Maine regularly. The bureaucrats have concluded — for reasons that escape me — that these viruses were brought to the state by dogs rescued from the South.

It’s also possible any jump in parvo and distemper has other origins. At least two Maine animal shelters have had outbreaks of parvo in the last couple of years, neither of them related to dogs imported from out of state. And distemper is common in raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and weasels, all of which can infect unvaccinated canines just by sneezing.

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