Miami-Dade County

Investigation: U.S. Cracks Down on Puppy Imports

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is cracking down on the importation of young, sick puppies for sale in the United States.

Beginning in mid-November, only puppies over six months old that are in good health with proof of vaccination will be allowed to enter US ports of entry on their way to being offered for sale. Personal puppies are exempt from the rule.

Currently, with some exceptions, any puppy with a health certificate is allowed entry, although those not vaccinated for rabies are supposed to be confined by their owners until they are vaccinated.

The result, says the Humane Society of the United States, has been a flood of foreign puppy mill dogs – often sickly or with invalid vaccination certificates -- entering the pet market.

“There’s no question this process of raising them in puppy mills in foreign countries and long distance transport without people properly caring for them during transport puts them at great risk,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. His group estimates thousands of puppies have died during or soon after the importation process.

Team 6 Investigators found two such puppies died of distemper this summer after being imported from Colombia and sold on Craigslist by a southwest Dade County man, Juan Gomez.

Gomez said in June he imported about 24 puppies a month from Colombia, making him a puppy dealer under the law. Miami Dade County cited him for being an unlicensed dealer whose puppies were sold without proper vaccinations and valid health certificates. Having lost his appeals, he now owes the county more than $3,600.

Last week, Gomez said he was misunderstood when he said he imported 24 puppies a month “more or less;” he now says he’s sold only two dogs – the same two Team 6 found died soon after the sales.

He also explained why puppies from Colombia are so attractive to dealers here, saying he could pay $250 in Colombia for a dog that sells for $1,000 to $1,200 here.

Pacelle said the importations come with a cost – to the dogs. “There are stresses, disease-related issues and that’s going to produce sick animals who sometimes die very soon after purchase,” Pacelle said.

The rule takes effect on Nov. 17, more than six years after Congress first authorized the department to regulate the imports.

It also comes after years of government crackdowns on domestic puppy mills. Pacelle said enhanced domestic enforcement has contributed to greater demand for puppies born overseas.

For more on ways to safely adopt a puppy, click here for NBC 6's All About Animals page.

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