Do you want an imported dog?
Recently, there has been an explosion of imported pet dogs coming to the Philippines, with traders and importers leading the frenzy. Celebrities share photos of their prized pets on Instagram and Facebook – supposedly “rare” animals, as marketers refer to them – whetting the appetites of aspiring pet owners for these beauties. Indeed, who can resist those pooches with their heavenly coats playing with their equally lovely humans? No wonder people are paying ridiculous amounts (equivalent to the price of a car) to buy imported pets.
Unfortunately, there have also been some pet importation scandals that have made the news in the past year or so. You might have heard about the mass importation of dogs and cats without correct government permits, or you might have heard about scammed buyers complaining about overpriced imports with dubious origins. Several other horror stories have never been reported in media, but have left many legitimate dog breeders scratching their heads at the audacity of these scammers.
But first, let’s start with one question that everybody asks – how much does an imported dog cost? The answer is that it depends. Some dogs are rightfully expensive – trained K9s, bomb-sniffing dogs, especially bred and trained therapy dogs all command hefty price tags, and this is easy to understand. Then there are champion dogs and their progeny – the so-called show lines that are campaigned in their respective countries or internationally – think Crufts, Westminster, World Dog Show. They are mostly bred or owned by experienced preservation breeders who have invested in these bloodlines through judicious health testing and well-thought out breeding plans. Their buyers are often serious breed enthusiasts and breeders (yes you have them in the Philippines) who want dogs that can improve their bloodlines and win dog shows. As expected, these dogs and puppies out of these lines command a premium – ranging from plain to astronomically expensive.
Then, there is this whole slew of imported pets. Note that I keep on stressing the word pets, to indicate that these were bought for no utilitarian reason other than to be a companion. Many of these are those cutie patooties that you see on the Instagram and Facebook feeds of celebrities and their owners. I have no quarrel with people importing pets – everyone has a right to do so. What I cannot agree with, though, is how these pet importations have become a hotbed for scammers and price gougers, in the process affecting the good work of legitimate importers and breeders.
Risking the wrath of some people, I have to state my opinion. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why an imported standard poodle (what ignoramuses call giant poodles) could fetch from P400,000 to P1.5 million ($10,000 to $30,000), or why any other dog, for that matter, would cost millions – if it were just a pet. Similarly, there is no justifying a pet toy poodle or a dachshund from backyard breeders (based in Vietnam, Thailand, or any country for that matter, with no knowledge whatsoever of the breed) commanding P170,000 ($3,500) or more. Perhaps it is just me and my middle-class sensibilities, but as far as I am concerned, prices at this range are ridiculously bloated and just plain insane.
Please do not say that these pets are overpriced because they are imported. Pet prices around the world generally cluster around the same price points (although of course, there are price gougers everywhere). What really bloats the price of imported dogs is the cost of shipping. Shipping cost is a function of the weight and height of the dog and the distance that it travelled, i.e., a full-grown St. Bernard from South America would have a much higher shipping cost than a chihuahua from Taiwan. Then there’s the route of plane. Straight flights are often cheaper, but this is not possible at all times (for instance, my dog from Brazil had to spend one night in Sao Paolo and another in Frankfurt, which meant we had to pay for his pet hotels on those nights during the journey.) Taxes on entry would depend on the shipping costs and the breed of the dog – yes, the guys at the Bureau of Customs have wizened up this, and would slap higher fees on some breeds.
I admit that with my partners, I have imported and spent a fortune (by my standards) on dogs, but these are from the best miniature schnauzer bloodlines from reputable breeders around the world who participate (and regularly win) in conformation shows run by the American Kennel Club and the FCI. These dogs have made their mark in Philippine dog show history, with winning streaks and records that not only justify their prices, but have given us tremendous pride and joy. Most importantly, they have helped us propagate a line of home-bred champions, and their progeny continue to be good ambassadors of the breed. And lastly, if I must state this, their acquisition costs, while definitely expensive, did not border on the insane. Needless to say, we did not go through importers — we talked to the breeders themselves, some of who brought the dog personally to the Philippines, or visited at least once to see that their dogs are in good hands. These breeders have joined me at ringside during dog shows, helping me prepare my dogs for the ring, and even handling them in the ring (for free). Definitely not a one-off transaction, but a relationship that has lasted through the years. (But yes, I’ve also had to travel across the world—I once found myself fetching a puppy in the farthest reaches of cold rural Michigan, because the breeder wanted to see if I had chemistry with the puppy.)
If you are among those who feel that higher-priced dogs are of better quality, then make sure you get a dog from a reputable breeder. Most of them won’t have picture-perfect images on their Instagram or Facebook timelines, because they’re busy attending to their dogs instead of marketing these on social media. So please don’t let celebrity endorsers and staged photos guide your buying decisions. (Frankly a serous breeder won’t have to put colorful bows or cute backgrounds to show off their dogs; they don’t even have to advertise their puppies in the first place)
If you’re bent on buying an imported dog, here are some things to remember:
- If your importer or seller claims that you’re getting a “rare breed” or “rare color” with a price tag equivalent to the price of a car, run away. The “rare” claim is a marketing claim that is used by opportunists who know marketing, but not dogs. Then google the breed to understand what it should look like and what its attributes are.
- If you are so intent on getting a particular breed, check out the breed standard on Google. Check out the FCI and the American Kennel Club to see pictures of what the approved colors are. Watch out for words like “teacup” or “princess type” or “wooly” or “king sized” – these are the buzz words invented by marketing opportunists who have zero knowledge of dog breed standards. For poodles, for instance, the FCI approved sizes are toy, miniature, medium, and standard poodles. Yes, there is no such thing as a giant poodle or a little poodle. For a miniature schnauzer, the approved FCI colors are black, salt and pepper, black and silver, and white. “Rare” partis or chocolates are never going to come from reputable breeders and importers.
- Imported pet dogs are not superior to locally bred dogs. If your importer says this, swat him in the head and avoid this moron who does not know what he is saying. Dogs are dogs are dogs, regardless of where they were born. Remember that unscrupulous breeders are everywhere and in every country on this planet. Of course, good breeders are everywhere too — you have to learn to separate the chaff from the grain. In the end, what matters is how the breeder planned this litter — if the breeder focused on health, temperament, and structure; how well the breeder cared for the puppies and their dam; and the steps that the breeder and importer took to ensure their safe passage.
- Imported dogs are not immune to infectious diseases, especially if you got them from unscrupulous breeders and importers. My vet is especially wary of imported dogs – he claims he has seen “boatloads” of imports coming in as sea cargo, all of them with distemper and/or full of worms. Another vet I go to insists on running titers to ensure that vaccinations on imported dogs are real. These vets’ skepticism should tell you how rampant the problem is. Again, not all importers bring in sick dogs, but as you can guess, it goes down to the integrity of the breeder and importer you are dealing with.
- Dogs should have complete vaccinations, including anti-rabies shots, before they can leave any airport around the world. These are checked by authorities at the point of departure and entry. Remember, too, that dogs get their first shots at 6 weeks (at the earliest), with succeeding shots coming every 2-3 weeks thereafter. Note that they could only get their anti-rabies shots close to 4 months, often when the 5-in-1 series is completed. So if your importer gives you a two or three month old puppy, then something does not add up.
- Imported dogs have microchips. This matches what’s in its export pedigree. Microchips will never fall off — they can get dislodged, but a scanner will find them wherever they may lodge in the body. (I still vividly remember a dog show wherein the ring steward could not find my dog’s microchip, until she moved the scanner near the dog’s arms.)
- Make sure all government permits have been accomplished, and that you’re holding on to real, not fake papers. You’ll need these when you register your dog with the Philippine Canine Club, Inc. (PCCI), along with the dog’s export pedigree.
- Check out the website of the PCCI to know the rules for registration of imported dogs. If you’re going to part with $20,000, the least you can do is familiarize yourself with these organizations (PCCI, FCI, AKC, and the kennel club of the country where your import is coming from). Also read their rules.
- Have a written contract. If you’re plunking down huge sums of money, you shouldn’t be agreeing to just screen shots of your online conversation as proof that a transaction has been made.
- Research, research, research. Talk to local breeders, especially those who join conformation shows. Check out the importer and talk to his/her clients. This will help you know if you’re being duped.
Remember, dizzyingly high prices do not automatically mean quality. It might simply mean that you’re being taken for a ride.