According to the HSUS, there have been at least four confirmed cases of distemper from three of the five Happiness is Pets store locations; Naperville, Downers Grove and Arlington Heights. Two puppies that were purchased have died, as well as reports that the store had six more euthanized. More cases may be confirmed as test results are completed. One dog, Dakota, purchased by Bryan Phillips of Aurora, is struggling with the disease. Additionally, three puppies with symptoms died prior to diagnosis.
Distemper is a serious and often fatal canine virus contracted easily by dogs that do not have immunity to it from proper vaccination. Once a much more common occurrence, it is now not often seen thanks to the vaccine. Distemper is extremely contagious to dogs; those that have spotty vaccination histories, as well as puppies that are too young for shots, are vulnerable.
Where distemper is seen often is with puppy mill dogs. Mills curb their expenses by not bothering to properly vaccinate their breeding dogs. The resulting puppies, then, do not carry the immunities normally passed on from the mother and are susceptible to contracting the disease. Even if a puppy has begun its series of vaccines, it generally takes weeks before the actual immunity begins to take hold.
Ronald Berning, owner of these Happiness is Pets stores, told press in an email last week he was sure the contagion was removed from his stores, and that all puppies offered for sale now are not at risk. He further stated that he believed the distemper originated from neither his stores nor the breeders. Berning said that he believed the virus was brought into one of his stores by a potential buyer bringing in their own dog. Happiness is Pets is now no longer allowing customers to bring pets into the stores.
The Companion Animals Protection Society (CAPS) has confirmed that the puppies sold by Berning in his Happiness Is Pets stores originate from puppy mills. CAPS members have staged weekend demonstrations in front of the stores regularly, for years now, in hopes of raising awareness and encouraging the public to avoid supporting puppy mills with their purchases from stores such as Happiness Is Pets.
According to CAPS, "Happiness is pets picks up their dogs from puppy mills in Missouri, Iowa and Indiana and then transports them here in their van. Since so many different puppy mills are used, there is no way to pin point down where the infection started. This means there are hundreds of dogs that could have been infected, transferred from store to store. They have 5 locations, so all stores will have spread the disease."
CAPS is therefore warning the public to be aware of any possible contact with the virus, including not touching any dogs in these stores and avoiding puppies on the street. If you have a sick or dying dog, please go to CAPS website and fill out a complaint form.
"Symptoms of distemper include either gastrointestinal (such as vomiting, decrease in appetite, and diarrhea) or respiratory in nature (difficulty in breathing). Transient fever or dramatic and sporadic increases in body temperature is a telltale sign of the infection. Behavioral changes include lethargy, weakness, and depression. Neurological signs may also be seen such as muscle twitching especially near the mouth and legs. Seizures and paralysis may occur in severe cases. A more or less unique skin sign in dogs with canine distemper is the hardening of footpads and nose pad most evident in older dogs. Sudden death is not uncommon with this disease." - Dr. Donald K. Allen, MS, DVM*
*courtesy of Dr. Donald K. Allen, MS, DVM and CAPS. Dr. Allen was part of two stories generated by CAPS about the pet shop and puppy mill industry: The award-winning “Dateline” segment “A Dog’s Life” (2000) and “Scandal of America’s Puppy Mills” in Reader’s Digest (1997).