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Healthy pets, happy owners

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Helpful tips from the state veterinarian and Animal Welfare Program director

AUGUSTA - The holiday season is a popular time for Maine families to consider the addition of a new family pet. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's state veterinarian and director of Animal Welfare are urging Mainers to take the time and care worthy of this significant and potentially rewarding step when considering obtaining a new pet.

'Healthy pets make happy owners. We want all Mainers to have a positive experience adopting a new family member,' noted Maine State Veterinarian Dr. Michele Walsh. 'Obtaining a pet is a significant emotional and economic commitment. Taking a few additional steps up front will help ensure that a new pet is healthy and well-adjusted, and can prevent disappointment down the road.'

By doing some important but basic research ahead of time, Mainers can help ensure the animal they are adopting is healthy and the animal organization with which they are working is compliant with Maine laws designed to protect consumers. Paying close attention to these details can increase the likelihood that new pets will bring many years of enjoyment.

'Research the group claiming to be rescuing the animals. Some groups disappear after getting the money and offer no support if there are behavior issues or illness,' said Liam Hughes, director of Maine's Animal Welfare Program. 'Do not pay cash, adopt, or buy a pet in a parking lot or on the side of a road. When you do get a new pet, take it to the vet right away. Start to build a relationship with your pet's healthcare provider and make sure your new pet is really healthy.'

In October, two dogs on a shipment of rescue animals imported to New England from the southern U.S. became very ill from canine parvovirus infection, which is highly contagious. When New England state regulators attempted to identify the whereabouts of all potentially exposed dogs to limit the spread of infection, poor or inaccurate adoption/distribution records for the animals prevented timely notification of the new owners or foster homes. This resulted in unnecessary exposure of additional animals to this terrible disease and substantial veterinary fees. If all importing groups had followed the laws in place to prevent such spread of disease which include vaccination against diseases like parvovirus 14 days prior to importation - a lot of heartache and cost of treatment would be spared.

Fortunately, many groups including local humane societies, shelters, rescue organizations and breeders - do wonderful work with animals and provide excellent opportunities to meet and learn about potential new pets prior to taking them home. Interacting with animals on-site prior to adoption gives families a chance to learn about any special behavioral or health requirements the animal might have, and obtain a copy of the animal's vaccination and health records. Reputable groups work closely with licensed veterinarians who assess the health of the animals in the facility, treat any medical issues and spay or neuter new arrivals before they are made available for adoption.

Dr. Walsh offers the following tips when adopting a new pet:

Work with a reputable local humane society whenever possible.

Meet with the pet prior to adopting it to ensure that its behavior and demeanor are a good match for your family.

Obtain a copy of the animal's medical record, vaccination history and Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.

Ensure that the dog or cat is vaccinated for rabies if it is three months of age or older.

If working with a rescue organization, ensure that it is properly registered and licensed in the state of Maine and in the state where the business is based, and/or with USDA Animal Care.

Mainers can contact the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Animal Health office at (207) 287-3701 for more information on which animal rescue and breeding organizations are appropriately registered.

How you can help fight animal cruelty and pet overpopulation in Maine:

Commissioner Walt Whitcomb highlighted the role Department plays in promoting responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. 'Our ACF veterinary staff and animal welfare specialists partner with animal health professionals and animal care organizations statewide to provide advice and assistance to families adding a companion animal, but they also work to help fight animal cruelty and pet overpopulation,' said Whitcomb. 'If you're looking for a gift idea that also contributes to animal protection, animal care license plate may be a unique present for someone you know who would like to show they also care.'

Additional ways you can support animal welfare can be found athttp://www.maine.gov/dacf/ahw/animal_welfare/index.shtml.

For more information about the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, go tohttp://www.maine.gov/dacf.

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