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Highly infectious dogs survive illegal transport to Mass.

State agricultural officials investigate while MSPCA treats the animals

Puppies with parvovirus were surrendered to the MSPCA-Boston and quarantined at Angell Animal Medical Center. (Photos by Brian Adams of MSPCA-Angell) Puppies with parvovirus were surrendered to the MSPCA-Boston and quarantined at Angell Animal Medical Center.
March 1, 2011

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The following information is from MSPCA-Angell:

In early February, a truck carrying dozens of adult dogs and puppies, some as young as eight weeks old, was making its long journey to Massachusetts from the Midwest. Within days, the puppies in this truck would become central figures in a case of illegal interstate transportation that brought a highly contagious and fatal canine virus into Massachusetts.

The MSPCA's Law Enforcement department received a call earlier last month regarding several dogs in a Norfolk County home that appeared ill. The MSPCA assigned an officer to inspect the animals and quickly learned that the canines had been transported from locations in the Midwest for the purpose of being adopted to Massachusetts families.

The Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) was also alerted and a Division of Animal Health inspector was dispatched to the property. It was soon discovered, through the available documentation, that several crucial steps in interstate animal transportation were circumvented, including a mandatory minimum 48-hour isolation period for all dogs and cats imported for the purpose of sale or adoption. Current Division of Animal Health rules require animals to be deemed healthy by a licensed veterinarian following the isolation period before they can be sold or adopted out.

"The transportation of animals between states, if not properly planned and carried out, can hold many serious risks for the animals being moved and the health of animals at a destination," said MSPCA head shelter veterinarian Cynthia Cox. Dr. Cox is also co-author of The Association of Shelter Veterinarians' Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, which includes a chapter outlining recommendations for animal transport programs.

"We work with the Division of Animal Health on many cases annually and due to the issue of disease in this specific case it was necessary to quarantine the canines from the Norfolk County location," said MSPCA Director of Animal Protection Jean Weber. "On February 17 we prepared to receive more than a dozen canines for quarantine at our Boston location."

The MSPCA-Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center staff began work preparing the quarantine area and waiting for the intake of possibly ill animals.

"When the dogs finally arrived, we found that the puppies were confined to several small cages, sometimes four to a cage," Kennedy continued. "They were crawling all over each other and covered in bodily fluids. Our immediate thought was that if one of these puppies had a contagious virus, they all did."

In total, 10 puppies were brought to kennels in the MSPCA-Boston, separated from the general population to prevent spreading any possible viruses. Four adult dogs of varying sizes and breeds were also provided with roomy kennels to recoup.

As the dogs and puppies settled into their new kennels, they were formally signed over to the MSPCA-Boston. Once surrendered, members of the adoption center staff including Dr. Cox, Kennedy, and Weber began documenting the animals and their condition.

"It is always important that we have a detailed intake of each animal," said Kennedy. "We also initiated testing each animal for possible infectious diseases."

The team began with their first test: collecting fecal samples and testing them for parvovirus. The staff members wore protective gowns, gloves, and booties as they tested the first few dogs. What happened next quickly increased the seriousness of the quarantine. Within minutes the results from several puppies were appearing positive for parvo.

"We immediately empathized with the puppies and their life-threatening illness," Kennedy added. "The long journey from the Midwest most certainly worsened their condition and allowed it to spread unfettered."

Parvovirus is an extremely contagious and life-threatening canine virus spread through oral contact with feces. Puppies are extremely susceptible to contracting parvo since they often lack maternal antibodies to combat the virus and cannot be fully vaccinated against its life-threatening effects. Parvo typically causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and often death.

The team continued testing each animal, already certain of the results. The adult dogs tested negative for parvo while eight out of ten puppies tested positive. Of the infected dogs, four of the puppies were severely ill. The puppies would not react to stimuli and would collapse when they tried to stand, some unable to lift their heads. Due to the four puppies' increasingly poor health and continued suffering, the decision was made to humanely euthanize them. The four adult dogs and two puppies who tested negative for parvo remained in the MSPCA-Boston quarantine unit to be tested over the next several days.

The four, healthier puppies that tested positive for parvo were diagnosed to be in the early stages of infection and were booked into Angell Animal Medical Center's quarantine unit to receive life-saving care.

"Working with our veterinary staff we planned out the next several weeks," Kennedy added. "We also anticipated one or both of the puppies that initially tested negative to possibly test positive since they most likely did not possess antibodies to protect them. We soon learned that the reach of the quarantine would grow."

Over the next few days one additional puppy did test positive and was immediately booked in to Angell's quarantine unit. The MSPCA-Boston also received two additional ill puppies from the original Midwest transport that had been adopted by local families.

"Many rescue groups follow the importation laws while transporting animals from southern and Midwestern states," Dr. Cox continued. "However, as we have seen in this case, if the regulations are circumvented the repercussions can be felt in the community and by the organizations equipped to provide care for these animals. We encourage rescue groups to adhere to the current requirements and have each animal fully examined at the supplier prior to travel, appropriately housed and monitored during transportation, and examined again upon arrival."

In Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, Dr. Cox and her co-authors provide insight into animal transportation:

...For many animals, animal transport is a life saving measure, but it also poses risks. Animal transport programs have the potential to spread infectious diseases along animal transport corridors and to new destinations…Risk of exposure to infectious disease is increased when animals who originate from multiple sources are transported in the same vehicle. In addition to affecting the individual animals transported, transportation programs may impact other animals at the source and receiving shelters in both positive and negative ways...

"The Animal Transport section of our report provides guidelines for safely and humanely transporting animals. These recommendations were not followed in this case. This is a worst case scenario," Dr. Cox added. "Originating shelters need to provide documentation of examinations, vaccinations and treatments for internal and external parasites for each animal prior to transport. The transporters need to separate unrelated animals during transport, maintain comfortable, safe and hygienic conditions, and take extra care when transporting young animals such as kittens and puppies since they are more susceptible to contracting and spreading disease."

The MSPCA-Boston continues to care for the quarantined puppies and adult dogs. The cost of care is impacting the organization's Spike's Fund, which provides care to homeless animals. Thousands of dollars have been spent and foster care for the canines is currently being sought through the MSPCA-Boston Foster Care Program.

Donations are being accepted for the MSPCA-Boston's Spike's Fund to help animals in need like these puppies. Visit www.mspca.org/puppies to donate.

"As the only open admission adoption center in Boston and one of only a handful in the state, we never turn away an animal in need," Weber added. "We do our best to provide the necessary care and fortunately can do so thanks to the generous support from the community."

To contact Angell Animal Medical Center with a pet related emergency please call (617) 522-7282. To find out more about Angell Animal Medical Center's Emergency and Critical Care service please visit www.angell.org/emergency.

Individuals with pets that have tested positive for parvovirus should also notify the Massachusetts Division of Animal Health at (617) 626-1795. Individuals who have been in contact with parvovirus positive animals should review their pet's vaccination records and discuss possible risks for infection with a veterinarian.

UPDATE The MSPCA-Boston has ended the quarantine for five dogs, illegally transported from the Midwest, after they have repeatedly tested negative for parvovirus since February 17. On Sunday, March 6, the dogs received a disinfecting bath before going for their first outdoor walk since mid-February.

“After testing negative every other day for three weeks, our veterinarians have lifted the quarantine on these five dogs,” said MSPCA-Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center director Amanda Kennedy. “However, one of the adult dogs has tested positive for heartworm, so we are providing her with additional treatment. We will continue to care for all of these dogs and prepare them for adoption in the upcoming weeks.”

Volunteers from the MSPCA-Boston’s Foster Care Program are also continuing to care for SIX puppies from the transport who are recovering from parvo infection. These puppies will remain quarantined until MSPCA veterinarians clear them for adoption.

Boston adoption center manager Alyssa Muro held one of the surrendered puppies. (Photo by Brian Adams of MSPCA-Angell) Boston adoption center manager Alyssa Muro held one of the surrendered puppies.