Adopting from Overseas

It’s estimated that there are around 600 million dogs in the world and, according to WHO (World Health Organisation), a staggering 200 million of these are strays.

That’s a huge percentage, equating to one in three dogs in the world without a home. According to IAPWA (International Aid for the Protection & Welfare of Animals), the figure for stray cats is around 480 million. Obviously, all of these figures are just estimates but nevertheless it highlights a HUGE problem globally with stray cats and dogs. The UK is nowhere near the worst for the problem of strays, although we do still have many animals that need rehoming and shelters are reporting currently bursting at the seams.

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of charities offering the opportunity to adopt pets from overseas to help with this huge international problem of strays. Now, you may wonder why you would adopt a pet from a different country when there are so many animals in the UK waiting for a home? Well, the answer for many is that the animals overseas are simply living in more desperate conditions. While animal shelters in the UK are regulated and (the vast majority) take excellent care of the animals entrusted to them, welfare conditions overseas can be truly dire, especially in public shelters (rather than those run by charities). Animals in some countries are left in squalor and are only kept for a brief period before being euthanised. Charities who rescue animals from abroad to be rehomed in the UK do this simply because it could be the animals’ only option. The RSPCA reported in 2021 that the number of dogs imported from Romania into the UK had surged by 67%! This is partially due to a new law in Romania that allows dogs to be euthanised if they’re not claimed from a shelter within 14-days. Charity International Dog Rescue was created after a visit to one such shelter when the charity’s founder Gill realised that the vast majority of the dogs there had absolutely zero chance of making it out alive (the charity now also rescues cats, too). This isn’t unique to Romania, either; animals in many countries are in similar situations.

Now, this isn’t to say that adopting an animal from the UK isn’t also vitally important – all of these animals deserve a loving home, wherever they come from and wherever they’re living. The need is there for all of them, so there’s no better/worse or more/less important or virtuous option and I’m certainly not telling you to choose one over the other! It’s simply a choice that some people choose to make. However, as with any pet, this isn’t a decision you should take lightly … there are many things to consider before you adopt, and choosing an animal from overseas does add some extra complications that you should think carefully about.

Firstly, you need to properly look into the charity that you’re choosing to adopt from. Make sure it’s a reputable charity who genuinely cares for the animals – and not just some mercenary out to make money by selling strays, or a puppy smuggler trying to pull on heart strings to make a quick buck! Ideally, speak to the charity directly and, if possible, other owners who’ve adopted pets from them (you may be able to contact them through social media pages or the charity may put you in touch). Pets coming from overseas may need additional immunisations and health checks, and they’ll certainly need the correct paperwork for travelling between countries. Look for charities who vaccinate, spay/neuter and microchip all pets before adoption (and provide genuine certification of this). Vet care can vary greatly in other countries so it may be the case that the animal has had previously untreated problems, for example fractures that haven’t healed properly, so it’s vital that you have a clear picture of any ongoing health concerns or problems (I.e. difficulties walking, incontinence, etc.) before adopting. Responsible charities will screen animals for diseases that aren’t present or common in the UK (such as Rabies, Leishmania, Brucellosis, Heartworm or certain ticks) to prevent the spread of these illnesses. Bringing these diseases in is a real risk, not only to your new pet but to other animals in the UK. The UK was declared as Brucellosis free at one point, but several cases have emerged over the past few years, which is causing serious concern amongst vets. It’s vital that these diseases are kept out of the country and responsible transportation of animals is the only way to do this.

There are no rules governing the exact tests or health checks that a charity has to make before importing an animal (apart from those stated by the pet passport or Animal Health Certificate rules, which vary by country), but be aware that choosing the minimum number of tests in order to keep costs down is a huge risk.

Charities will require an adoption fee and many will also ask you to pay travel fees in addition to this, although they all work differently. Some bring animals over to UK foster families before adoption, while others bring them directly from overseas. Ensure you fully understand all of the costs involved before you commence the process of adoption

While you’re checking out the charity to make sure you’ve chosen a genuine, ethical one, they should be checking you out, too! Responsible charities will do their due diligence in vetting potential adopters. Many will require you to make an application in writing and will also undertake a home visit before matching you with a pet from overseas. They need to make sure the animal is coming into a safe, caring environment, that you’re clear of the commitment you’re taking on, and that you’re able to cope with a new pet. They’ll want to know things like your working pattern, any other pets or children who live in the house (many won’t home animals from overseas with young children) and whether your garden has high, secure boundaries (which is even more critical when you’re adopting a former stray). You may feel like you’re being interviewed but it’s really important that the charity knows all about potential adopters, as this helps them to make the right ‘match’ and avoid the possibility of a failed adoption.

When you’re adopting a stray, especially from abroad, you’re unlikely to know anything about the animal’s history or, very often, its breed (it’s likely to be a cross, or mixed breed). This can make getting to know your new pet, or predicting its temperament or behaviour, very difficult. It may be that it’s never lived in a home before or, if it has, it perhaps won’t have been treated as a ‘pet’ due to cultural differences. So, you’ve got the added challenge of trying to domesticate and socialise an animal which hasn’t had these experiences before. That’s not to say this won’t be a hugely rewarding task and your new pet will likely become a loving and faithful companion, but don’t expect it to be plain sailing from day one! Sometimes the simplest thing like the sound of a washing machine can cause anxiety for an animal that hasn’t heard one before … your journey together is going to require extra patience and understanding. However, it can be really rewarding to see an animal truly blossom in their new environment, often going from a shy, timid little thing to a loving pet that no longer fears the human touch but appreciates it, and can be relaxed and happy in your company.

As much as you’ll give it your all, it may be the case that the match between you and your new pet just doesn’t work out despite your best efforts and, if this is the case, you need to know what will happen. Have an open conversation before you commence the adoption to find out how such circumstances will be handled. It’s often the case that the charity has a network of UK foster carers who can step in, or a shelter in the UK that the pet can be returned to, but it’s important to understand your options here and know that the animal will be safe, no matter what.

If you’re thinking of rescuing an animal from living in dire conditions abroad and giving it a forever home here in the UK, it can be a really rewarding thing to do. Just make sure you fully research the charity, the process, the healthcare and the costs first … and that’s before you even come to choosing your new pet!