States mull 6-month horse health permits
Protecting the health of the livestock industry is a daunting task. Finding a balance between protection and feasibility might be even tougher.
An official agreement between the animal health departments in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state allows horse owners in those states to obtain a 6-month health certificate or passport for travel outside of the state, rather than the typical 30-day health certificate utilized for entry into most states.
A Williston, North Dakota woman approached the North Dakota Board of Animal Health in June, asking them to join the agreement.
“I travel to Montana frequently. I always have to run to my vet and get a 30-day permit,” said Charell Schillo, who regularly participates in barrel racing competitions in eastern Montana.
Schillo said she always complies with the 30-day health certificate requirement when traveling to another state, but she knows of folks who don’t. “Sometimes it’s a fair drive for someone to go to the vet – 30 miles or more so it takes half a day. It gets to be a pain in the butt so people just ignore it and take their chances.”
Since she’s been stopped by authorities and asked for her paperwork, she chooses to comply with the law but would like for North Dakota to participate in multi-state agreement to accept 6-month health certificates, so she could cut down on the trips to her local veterinarian.
The man charged with disease prevention in Montana’s livestock industry, Dr. Marty Zaluski, isn’t wild about the agreement that he says was set up to offer convenience for frequent travelers.
“Fundamentally this program kind of runs contrary to animal health principles. Here you are taking the population that has the greatest risk of contracting disease and providing that population of animals the most lenient rules as far as animal health certification,” said the state veterinarian of the deal that has been in place since at least 1996.
Zaluski said those who receive the 6-month passports are required to maintain an itinerary of expected travel times and locations. But when the itinerary or report arrives in November, detailing travel activities from the previous June, the success of the program is compromised, he said. Even though applicants are not able to obtain another certificate without completing the itinerary, compliance with this requirement is not as high as he’d like it to be.
Because none of the states in the agreement have been identified as locations harboring Vesicular Stomatitis at the time of the interview, Zaluski said the six-month certificates have not been cancelled. But each state in the pact has the option of doing that at any time, to deal with a problem or stave off a potential concern.
Montana current follows USDA recommendations in dealing with VS and requires horses arriving from affected counties to be accompanied by a 14-day health certificate that includes a statement of clean health.
In a recent newsletter, Zaluski called on private practice veterinarians in his state to offer their thoughts and suggestions on the program. “We’re trying to take this program that has had very few checks and balances and provide some sideboards, but I’m not sure if it meets the needs of animal health.”
The state veterinarian in Idaho, Dr. Bill Barton, is more optimistic.
Utah, Nevada and California were all participants in the agreement at one time or another, he said.
The people that use it appropriately create no cause for concern, he said. “If they aren’t completing an itinerary of where they’ve been at the end of six months, we don’t renew their certificate the next time they ask,” he explained.
The day of the phone interview, Utah was discovered to be home to VS cases. “If people are coming from anywhere in Utah or any other state with VS, as are asking them to call for an import permit. At the time they do that, we’ll assess the risk if they’ve been on the premise. If they’ve been on the premise we’ll revoke the certificate and make them get a new one,” he said.
Barton said he would be comfortable with North Dakota joining the agreement. “We are more than happy to work with any state that wants to participate. We just have to make sure their import requirements and ours are similar.”
Dr. Logan who serves as the state veterinarian in Wyoming, recalls Dr. Zaluski broaching the subject of the extended horse health permits at a recent meeting of western states’ animal health departments.
“He has been a proponent but he said he was beginning to reconsider because people are not fulfilling their responsibilities. At this stage of the game there is quite a bit of concern on continuing to do this, especially with VS being present including in Wyoming.”
Dr. Zaluski verified this. “I recently voiced concerns to the officials at the meeting.” His state animal health board will likely discuss the topic soon, he said.
Neither his animal health board nor the Wyoming Horse Council has showed particular interest in the concept, Logan said, and he himself is not a proponent. “It doesn’t give us good oversight on what’s being imported and moved around the state.”
North Dakota’s state veterinarian, Dr. Susan Keller, chose not to comment on the topic, saying her board had tabled it for more consideration.