She thought she had done everything necessary to bring their dog from Kenya to their new home.
She had had the rabies vaccines updated in Nairobi. She had had a vet check the spotted spaniel for worms and sent photos of Toffee’s teeth to prove she was at least six months old. She had scanned her husband’s passport, obtained an export permit, filled out dozens of American and international forms.
Kacey Bollrud, 47, and her husband have been transporting their pets from their Foreign Service posts to her parents’ home in Pensacola since 2006. For their 9- and 12-year-old daughters, pets help make them feel at home them. Moving your dog has always been complicated, but doable.
But last March, when the girls’ father was sent from Kenya to a posting in Washington, DC, the family learned the rules had changed. New regulations, meant to ward off rabies, left thousands of dogs in limbo as their owners struggled to bring them to the United States.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had restricted the importation of dogs from 113 countries at high risk of rabies, including Kenya.
The Bollrud girls cried when they had to leave Toffee behind.
“They have to start at a new school, make new friends, set up a new house,” their mother said. “Having a pet home at the end of the day to sit on the couch and lay its head in your lap is incredibly comforting.”
New rules, which took effect in July 2021, require dogs entering the United States from these 113 countries to have a US-approved rabies vaccine. Then the dogs must wait 30 days and undergo a blood titer test, to see if they have enough antibodies. Only a handful of labs worldwide process these tests. Results can take months.
People who have to uproot themselves quickly, especially from Afghanistan and Ukraine, don’t have time to follow the new protocol – and have to abandon their pets abroad.
Bollrud called labs to test his dog’s blood in Belgium and then South Africa. By the time she found a spot, her husband had to report to his new job in DC
A friend agreed to foster Toffee in Kenya, take her for a blood test for the $1,000 test, try to help find her family.
Every day for nearly five months, the Bollrud girls have been asking questions about their dog: Does he miss them? Will she remember them? When will they be able to kiss her again?
If you’re traveling overseas with your dog or trying to bring one back from overseas, you’ll need to plan months in advance, spend more money, and follow CDC guidelines — which are constantly changing.
Over the past year, thousands of people have had trouble trying to bring dogs to the United States: military personnel, State Department employees, federal contractors, refugees and rescue groups of animals.
No one knows how many had to leave pets abroad.
The CDC said the new rules “protect public health from the reintroduction of canine rabies” – which was eradicated in the United States in 2007.
Approximately 1 million dogs enter the United States each year – 100,000 from restricted countries. For the CDC, every dog represents a risk, however small.
In the past seven years, three dogs flown into the United States from Egypt and one from Azerbaijan have tested positive for rabies.
CDC employees refused 458 dogs for having invalid vaccines or improper documentation in 2020, a small percentage of all imports — but a 52% increase from the previous year.
“The COVID pandemic has diverted resources from dog vaccination efforts in many high-risk countries,” said CDC spokesperson Belsie Gonzalez. “We believe that the risk of importation of rabid dogs will be higher in the coming years as a result.”
Because more people wanted pets during the pandemic, more groups were trying to bring in dogs from overseas. This could have led to an increase in the number of rejected dogs, CDC veterinarian Emily Pieracci wrote.
With fewer international flights and many airlines refusing to fly animals, refused dogs often have long waits before being sent back, according to the CDC advisory. Many fall ill, waiting in crates. Some die.
Critics say the new requirements are unnecessarily restrictive, sometimes impossible to meet.
The narrow way to get permission to bring a dog to the United States could now cost $15,000 instead of $500. Rescue groups may no longer be able to afford to rescue dogs from overseas meat markets or remove them from the streets overseas.
In September 2021, Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, and 50 co-signers asked the CDC to lift the ban after one year. Dogs should be allowed to be vaccinated in their country of origin, he wrote. The government should establish a “pet passport” and make room for animal charities to continue saving lives.
In May, Crist wrote another letter, imploring the CDC to help Ukrainian refugees bring their dogs to the United States. Given the rarity of rabies, the congressman wrote, “This ban does more harm than good.
Bollrud’s friend took Toffee to the vet in Nairobi in early April. The results came in at the end of May: plenty of rabies antibodies.
If the documents are verified, their pet could be allowed to enter the United States
But Bollrud had to find a way to fly it here. An airline wanted $6,000 to ship it as freight.
“The new CDC ban is by far the most difficult and frustrating issue we have ever had to deal with,” she said. “I don’t mind bearing the costs as a pet owner, but the government needs to facilitate the process.”
She wants soldiers and civil servants posted abroad to be exempt.
“The girls are really scared for Toffee,” Bollrud said. “Our family is not whole.”
A few weeks ago, her daughters were watching Little House on the Prairie. When the dog got lost, her youngest daughter sobbed on the couch.
Most of the 113 countries that the United States restricts dogs to are considered “difficult” positions, said Melissa Mathews, 50, a Floridian whose husband served in Jordan with the State Department. “This ban makes it even more difficult to recruit workers there.”
At least 40% of military and foreign service families overseas have pets, Mathews said. The ban “made it look like our own government was attacking us. We cannot leave them behind.
Her husband recently considered another posting in the Middle East, but was worried about bringing their mixed-breed dog, Evie, back to Ormond Beach.
So they move to Austria, which is not a high risk country for rabies.
In June, the CDC extended the dog import ban through January 2023.
But they had heard the outcry, so they created a route for animal welfare agencies. Once in the United States, dogs vaccinated overseas must be revaccinated and usually spend a month in quarantine, all at the expense of the importer.
In most cases, they can only fly through four airports in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami. The CDC contracts with private facilities to house detained dogs. The government has no control there.
Miami contractor Pet Limo officials declined to comment.
Peter Fitzgerald is a retired professor at Stetson Law School in Gulfport and has volunteered with international dog rescue groups for 30 years. He adopted a golden retriever from Turkey and another from Florida. During exams, he brings them to Stetson to help soothe stressed students.
He is encouraged by the revised regulations. But he doesn’t think there are enough ports of entry. He thinks the CDC needs an advisory board.
“We need an agency to oversee the process,” he said. “A set of rules for anyone who brings dogs.”
Before the ban, one of the groups he helps sent 300 dogs a year to the United States, rescuing them from meat markets in Thailand.
Now he fears that the increased hassle – and expense – will make such a mission impossible.
“Compassion knows no international boundaries,” Fitzgerald said. “But the adoption fee won’t even cover our expenses.”
Finally, she has a plan.
After weeks of research, phone calls, negotiations, Bollrud found a way to bring his family’s dog from Kenya.
She couldn’t get Toffee to Dulles Airport because some summer days bring heat embargoes – Toffee might get stuck.
Thus, on August 25, her friend will fly with Toffee from Nairobi to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Boston. Bollrud will drive the 400 miles there from DC
And after six months, her daughters will have their dog.
They can’t wait to take Toffee to a dog park, to the dog cafe they discovered, to pick out a puppy popsicle.
To snuggle up on the sofa and have it at home.