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Deadly Puppy Virus Prompts Renewed Calls in Maine to Outlaw Retail Pet Sales
02/25/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

The appearance of a deadly canine virus in puppies linked to a southern Maine pet store has prompted renewed calls from animal rights activists to outlaw the retail sale of puppies and kittens.  Little Paws in Scarborough remains under quarantine after the puppies in question tested positive for parvovirus, or parvo. State officials say the disease claimed the life of a young Siberian husky named Shelby several weeks ago, and that another puppy, also linked to the same pet store, has since tested positive.  Tom Porter has more.

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Animal rights activists protest retail puppy sales Saturday in Scarborough.

"Even if a puppy is diagnosed and treated right away, the mortality is up to 50 percent," says Dr. Christin Fraser, with the animal welfare division of the Maine Department of Agriculture.  Fraser says it's rare for the disease to be found in a pet store.  Symptoms, she adds, include vomiting and diarrhea.

"So it causes severe dehydration," she says. "They can't basically absorb any nutrients, and their little bodies the stores, or the reserves, to fight it."

Parvo is a very contagious virus that can survive for months in animal feces and organic surfaces. Since Shelby died, Fraser says the state's animal welfare program has received no new reports of puppies purchased at Little Paws being diagnosed with parvovirus.

For the store's owner Barbara Cross, the mention of the "p-word" led to swift action from the state:  Little Paws was put under quarantine earlier this month and will remain so until at least the end of next week.  This means no dogs into the store, and none of the store's 20 or so puppies that remain on display behind glass inside, can go out.

Cross says major sanitary improvements are now underway at Little Paws.

"We had to do all the dog wash areas, the grooming area, the viewing areas, re-sealing those so that we had a better, adequate way, and that was our own choice, it's not something the state told us," she says. "It's just that when they told us to thoroughly clean everything we caught ourselves like, 'Hmm, that's raw wood, let's seal that.'"

"We've been dreading this, because this is what we've been educating the public about for the last two years," says Lynne Fracasi, founder of Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills. She and fellow activist Carol Reynolds say there are eight pet stores in Maine selling puppies - many of which are purchased from out-of-state puppy mills, where conditions  -although not illegal - are often inhumane, with puppies kept in cages that are just six inches larger than the animal on each side.

"So the dogs that live in these cages for breeding purposes, they never come out of the cage," Fracasi says. "They never touch grass, they never live in a home as a pet, they're considered livestock."

And, says Reynolds, the cages have wire bottoms, allowing waste to collect underneath and creating ideal conditions for diseases like parvo.

Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills held a protest outside Little Paws on Saturday. Dozens of people lined the road holding signs with messages like "Say No to Puppy Mills," and "Puppies Aren't Products."

They want communities in Maine to follow the lead of 30 towns and cities across America which have banned pet stores from selling puppies and kittens.  But state animal welfare vet Christine Fraser says that such a ban might force pet buyers to seek out unregulated backyard breeders and make regulation more difficult.

"People are going to get animals, you know is it better to have them come locally here where we can inspect and control them to some standards, we can quarantine them when we know there's a problem, we can at least regulate them," Fraser says.

Little Paws owner Barbara Cross meanwhile, says she's being unfairly targeted by animal rights protestors. She insists she's usually careful about the breeders she gets her puppies from - although she admits she may not be calling back the one that supplied her with Shelby.

Photos courtesy of Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills

View Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills' video of the group's protest.


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