Last week, I learned that a puppy a couple adopted from K9 Northwest dog rescue in Tacoma had distemper and had to be euthanized about 3 weeks after they brought it home.
Another puppy adopted from K9 Northwest died of parvo this month a few days after it had been adopted.
The couple adopted their puppy, a shih tzu mix named Captain, in January when he was about 8 weeks old. According to a report from the Summit Veterinary Referral Center dated 2/7/15, Captain had bloody diarrhea “shortly after adoption” and was treated for coccidia and giardia. He also had “a recent ear infection.”
Diarrhea is a common symptom of both coccidia and giardia. One of Captain’s adopters told me that “within 24 hours” of adopting Captain he started eliminating runny, bloody diarrhea.
The incubation period for giardia is 1-2 weeks, so Captain probably had it when he was adopted.
The vet report also noted that Captain had an ear infection.
Captain started having “seizure activity” on January 21, about a week after he was adopted.
The seizures began about five minutes after he woke up. When they occurred, Captain would become “tense” and fall over if he was standing. He would also salivate excessively, move his mouth like he was chewing gum, and became “disoriented.”
The vets conducted a number of tests on Captain to determine the cause of his seizures. While waiting for the test results they put him on anti-seizure medications. Although his seizures stopped, he began to “obsessively try to bite at his tail and spinning in circles.”
The vets performed an MRI and spinal tap on Captain in a last ditch effort to diagnose his illness. Here’s what Captain’s adopter told me what happened next:
“While awaiting test results (which took a few days) the neurologist prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics (which could fight bacterial infections) paired with anti convulsive medication in an attempt to get behind the issue before it did anymore neurological damage. During those couple days Captain’s mental state degraded drastically to not recognizing his name, inconsolable whining and barking, tied with uncontrollable elimination (where as before he knew to go outside for eliminating). Upon receiving the results of his spinal tap the neurologist informed us of the abnormally high white blood cell count consistent with canine distemper and/or encephalitis. We continued to monitor Captain closely while administering his plethora of medications when “his behavior escalated from his frantic whining and barking to him chewing his tail raw and biting to no end.”
As Captain’s suffering continued to escalate, his adopter’s made the decision to euthanize him on February 7, only 3 weeks after they adopted him.
After he was euthanized they sent some of his tissue to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy which confirmed he died due to complications from distemper.
K9 Northwest provided Captain’s adopters with health records saying he was vaccinated for distemper on January 6, 2015, but it was just a form they made with the distemper vaccination box checked. It was not an official document from a veterinarian.
The incubation period for distemper is up to 6 weeks, and according to the ASPCA, the distemper virus is passed from dog to dog “through direct contact with fresh urine, blood or saliva. Sneezing, coughing and sharing food and water bowls are all possible ways for the virus to be passed on.”
I can’t say whether or not Captain got a distemper vaccination on January 6th, but from what I understand, puppies are supposed to get a series of 3-4 distemper vaccinations every 3-4 weeks starting when they are 6-8 weeks old in order to be fully protected from the disease.
So regardless of whether or not he was vaccinated on January 6, and because distemper has an incubation period of up to 6 weeks, the chances that Captain contracted distemper before he was adopted are extremely high.
K9 Northwest gave another puppy from Captain’s litter through the Make-a-Wish Foundation to a family with a girl in a wheelchair, but I don’t know if that puppy contracted distemper (or giardia or coccidia). Hopefully K9 Northwest notified the family and told them to have the dog checked out by a vet.
Captain is the second puppy adopted from K9 Northwest this year that died not long after it was adopted. The other puppy was an 8-week-old shepherd mix named Ava that died from parvo earlier this month about a week after she was adopted.
Ava infected another puppy named Oliver, but fortunately he will most likely survive.
As I wrote in my post about Ava, K9 Northwest director Melissa Lingk told me she is shutting the rescue down after she adopted out the rest of its dogs. The organization’s registration with the Washington Secretary of State’s office expired since December of 2013 so she should have stopped the group’s adoptions 18 months ago.
Based on what I know from Ava’s and Oliver’s cases, I believe K9 Northwest is/was an irresponsible, shady rescue group. Reputable dog rescue groups rarely, if ever, adopt out sick puppies with serious medical problems, because they keep them long enough to ensure they get all their vaccinations and get past the incubation period of dangerous diseases.
They also don’t go back on their word. Ms. Lingk told the woman who adopted Ava that she would refund the puppy’s $350 adoption fee if she sent the rescue proof that the puppy died. Here’s what she told me:
“Before Ava passed, they offered to refund us the adoption fee. Melissa told me that she set it aside as soon as she knew Ava was sick. I have her my address and never received anything. After your article came out, I emailed her with Ava’s billing statement and proof of death like she requested. I never heard anything. That was the same day your article came out.”
As of today she still hadn’t received the refund. And she spent over $5000 on Ava’s medical bills.
Ms. Lingk also told me on June 1 she would send me Ava’s the health certificates and vaccination records. I still don’t have them.
The couple that adopted Captain spent approximately $3500 trying to save him.
So these two couples spent about $8500 to save the sick puppies they adopted from K9 Northwest plus another $700 in adoption fees. On top of all that, they both suffered from extreme stress and heartache of trying to keep their a sick puppies alive and then losing them.
The very least K9 Northwest could do it refund the adoption fees they paid.
While I’m glad K9 Northwest is shutting down, it’s another small rescue group in Washington that was either unable or unwilling to run their organizations transparently and prioritize the best interests of the dogs they rescued.
Because many of these groups escape the scrutiny of animal control officials and regulators, potential dog adopters must do extensive research to ensure they will get their dog from a reputable rescue.
I also put together a list of 10 Things That Can Identify Fake Dog Rescues to help people identify the bad actors. You can also check out my list of animal rescues and shelters in Washington. It’s not a comprehensive list, but to be best of my knowledge the groups on it have solid reputations.
If you know of a reputable rescue group that should be on the list, email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the veterinarian’s summary of Captain’s health problems dated the day the sick puppy was put down due to severe complications related to distemper.
Here is the necropsy report for Captain confirming he had distemper.