Family upset after rescued shelter puppies become ill

When the Braim family of the town of Saratoga decided to adopt puppies, a Pennysaver advertisement b

When the Braim family of the town of Saratoga decided to adopt puppies, a Pennysaver advertisement brought them to Adirondack Save-a-Stray, a private no-kill shelter in Corinth.

It ended up not being a happy experience.

They got two 3-month-old mixed-breed puppies just imported from an animal-rescue shelter in Puerto Rico, and both came down with serious cases of potentially deadly parvovirus. Veterinarians said a quarantine after their arrival might have prevented their getting sick after adoption.

The puppy named Peggy is now recovering, and was expected to go home from the Haven Animal Hospital in Malta Monday evening.

Her sibling, Hailey, wasn’t so lucky. She died at Haven early Saturday morning.

“It’s been horrible, absolutely horrible,” said Judy Braim, a private duty nurse who adopted the puppies on Feb. 2 with her two younger sons, ages 16 and 10.

That was only a day after the puppies had been brought from Puerto Rico. The first became sick a week later, and an emergency clinic in Moreau quickly diagnosed parvovirus, Braim said.

Parvovirus is a highly contagious canine disease, seen most often in puppies, that causes the dogs to vomit and have diarrhea. They often die, even with treatment. The disease, often spread by contact with contaminated feces, is a general concern among operators of kennels and animal shelters, but there are vaccinations available against it.

Adirondack Save-a-Stray Executive Director Meredith Fiel on Monday expressed condolences to the family and said she plans to offer another puppy, but she said because it works with rescued animals whose backgrounds are unknown, the organization can’t be held to the same standard for promising healthy puppies as a commercial pet store.

“In rescue, there are no guarantees,” she said. “We’re rescuing animals. We’re saving lives.”

But the veterinarian who treated the puppies, as well as the Capital Region representative of the New York State Veterinary Medicine Society, said the problem might have been avoided if the shelter had kept the puppies in quarantine for a few days after they arrived from Puerto Rico before letting them be adopted.

“They’re vaccinating them [in Puerto Rico], putting them on the plane, and adopting them out,” said Dr. Desiree Thibealt, at Haven Animal Hospital. “Yes, we need to adopt animals out, but you need to guarantee them, too.”

Fiel said the puppies were tested for parvo when they arrived in Corinth, and didn’t have it. “We can’t say where they got it,” she said.

Paperwork from Puerto Rico said they’d received two of the recommended three inoculation shots. They weren’t yet old enough for the third.

Dr. Charles Brockett of Saratoga Springs, regional representative of the state veterinary medicine society, said it takes parvovirus 7 to 10 days to incubate, and quarantining puppies when they first come from Puerto Rico would be a good idea.

“Have I heard of cases like this from other vets? Yes, I have,” he said.

He said it might be better not to rely on provided information about whether puppies have been vaccinated against parvo or rabies in another country.

“The ethical thing would be to quarantine for 10 days, and eliminate any doubt,” he said.

Fiel said Adirondack Save-a-Stray’s facility isn’t physically large enough to keep imported puppies in quarantine for any length of time, if someone wants to adopt them.

The 25-year-old organization is located in a converted residence on Route 9 just south of the village of Corinth, filled with puppy dens made with wooden boards. Most of its dogs were puppies, but it also had a large number of adult cats on Monday, and two young potbellied pigs, all of them available for adoption.

Fiel said she has fat folders of letters and notes from people happy with animals they got from her, including some that came from the Puerto Rican animal rescue group she works with.

“We tell [prospective adopters] they were found on the side of the road we can’t guarantee what diseases they may have been exposed to,” Fiel said.

She said the shelter provides free veterinary care to recently adopted animals and had participated in studies treating parvo with the drug Tamiflu, but the Braims didn’t contact her until after Hailey had died.

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, international quarantine rules don’t apply. Only a health certificate indicating an exam by a veterinarian who found it free of disease is required by state law, and the two puppies the Braims adopted had that record.

As a nonprofit humane society, Adirondack Save-a-Stray is exempt from the state “pet lemon law” that applies to commercial pet sales.

Most of the staff at Save-a-Stray is volunteer, and the shelter receives no government funding. Adoption fees and private donations cover its costs, but being a private shelter also makes it exempt from regulations that apply to publicly funded shelters, such as the Saratoga County Animal Shelter in Ballston Spa.

Save-a-Stray is a no-kill shelter, meaning animals aren’t euthanized after a period of time if not adopted, as they are at the county shelter. But Fiel said the continuous demand to take more animals means she can’t hold them in quarantine if someone wants to adopt them.

“We hold them as long as we can, until we don’t have any room,” she said.

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