Dogs quarantined; many die
By Larry Clifton
An offer to provide refuge for 222 puppies and dogs from Puerto Rico for four days in their air-conditioned warehouse in Bushnell has cost Ronnie and Linda Graves, founders of Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) between $50,000 and $75,000 and taxed the stamina of a group of dedicated DART volunteers.
The animals were supposed to be disease free, at least four months old and 10 pounds or less in weight, according to Ronnie Graves, but that was found not to be the case upon their arrival.
A report by Brenda Eggert Brader, spokeswoman for the Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA), states that the dogs ranged in age from 4 weeks to greater than 1 year when they arrived.
Since Aug. 30, Sumter DART volunteers in Bushnell, a handful of Florida veterinarians and University of Florida veterinarians have battled to contain an explosive epidemic of distemper and parvovirus that, as of Sept.22, claimed the lives of 107 of the dogs and puppies.
Allegedly the animals were vaccinated and wormed in Puerto Rico, however fecal exams showed that many dogs, particularly the youngest puppies, also carried coccidia, roundworm, and hookworm parasite infestations, according to the FVMA report.
Several calls made Tuesday to the Puerto Rico PAWS shelter were not returned by press time.
The puppies and dogs were en route to Yonkers, N.Y., to be distributed to various PetSmart stores for an “adopt-a-thon;” the trip included a scheduled two-day layover in Bushnell.
The Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelter in Isabela, that shipped the dogs was one of 50 shelters across the U.S. competing in an ASCPA contest to win $100,000 and a second grant of $25,000 to be awarded to the shelter with largest adoption participation.
DART had agreed to transport and care for the animals for the hastily planned two-day layover in Bushnell. Hurricane Earl was set to come ashore in Puerto Rico a day after the animals were flown out on a cargo plane to Orlando where DART picked them up.
This is a situation where so many have stepped up to contribute so much to save the lives of the dogs that it is humbling to be a part of it all, said Connie Brooks, director of Sumter DART.
“As the puppies came off our truck, it became apparent that the minimum age requirement stipulated in the agreement had not been met,” said Brooks.
“Many of the puppies were just starting to open their eyes and were obviously only weeks old,” said Brooks.
The Puerto Rico PAWS animal shelter was reportedly “running in first place” to win the ASPCA cash award for a national adoption campaign sponsored by PetSmart when PAWS veterinarian Dr. Gwen Davis contacted DART to assist by sheltering and transporting the animals her organization had rounded up in Puerto Rico for the contest, according to Brooks.
But according to Graves, there was an agreement that all animals were free of infectious diseases, weighed no more than 10 pounds and were at least four months old.
Instead, the Puerto Rican PAWS facility shipped a mixture of animals that included larger dogs, puppies only a few weeks old and many that were infected by distemper and parparvovirus, said Graves.
The total estimated cost of medical care, medical testing and all other related expenses to various organizations right now is $185,000, he said.
Sumter DART called the state veterinarian association immediately after DART volunteers began unloading the puppies and an immediate quarantine was ordered, according to Graves.
DART volunteers have worked tirelessly during the crisis and Bushnell veterinarians Dr. Shannon Kennedy offered his services from day one and even helped clean their cages, said Brooks.
Dr. Cynda Crawford of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and UF VETS became an on-site consultant during the state-ordered quarantine and stayed in Bushnell for a week to care for the animals, said Brooks.
According to a report by the Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA), as of Sept. 22, 53 healthy dogs determined to be free of distemper or parvo were transported to the Florida SPCA in Orlando to be adopted and 20 had been adopted from that location.
Thirty-three of the youngest puppies testing positive for distemper but clinically well were transferred to six veterinarians across central Florida who graciously agreed to care for them under isolation conditions until they recover, according to the FVMA report.
Twenty-nine more dogs infected with distemper were accepted in isolation in Altamonte Springs, by Dr. Bruce Keene.
As of the FVMA report, 115 of the 222 dogs are still alive and have a chance at recovering and being adopted.
“I work with volunteers and I am a volunteer, but I haven’t seen so many step up for so long in quite a while,” said Brooks, as tears clouded her eyes. The people in this community have simply been wonderful, I can’t say enough about the support we have received from volunteers working twenty-hour days to the veterinarians, and everyone else.
For his part, Graves said even local restaurants contributed, adding, “Odd Couples on County Road 48 sent over about 50 fajita wraps and even made the volunteers a pineapple cake.”
Putting animals with highly contagious diseases together in cages is the easiest way to create a disease epidemic, according to Graves, who hopes that other rescue organizations can learn from the Puerto Rican dog quarantine.
What happened in Bushnell is a lot of wonderful volunteers and people came together and contributed their valuable time and resources to save the lives of a lot of animals as they were being decimated by two of the most deadly canine diseases, said Graves.
Sumter County Times article