Puppies Who Interacted With Public in Hanover May Have Been Infected

  • Aimee Goodwin administers the antibiotic doxycycline to the four rescue puppies and her own dog Playa, right, at her Norwich, Vt., home Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. The puppies were brought to Vermont from Puerto Rico by Goodwin's organization Surfin' Sato following Hurricane Maria and are being treated for leptospirosis. Two of the puppies from the original group were euthanized. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aimee Goodwin snuggles with one of the rescue puppies she helped bring to Vermont from Puerto Rico at her home in Norwich, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aimee Goodwin steps over a barrier used to keep four rescue puppies from Puerto Rico and her own dog, Playa, left, contained after mopping up their urine with bleach at her home in Norwich, Vt., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. The puppies are being treated for leptospirosis, a disease that is spread through contact with urine and can sometimes be transmitted to humans. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A family who declined to be identified visited Goodwin in Norwich, Vt., to pick out a puppy for adoption from a group of Puerto Rican rescues Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. All the puppies and Goodwin's own dog Playa, left, are being treated with antibiotics for leptospirosis and two of the original 10 puppies were euthanized. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2017

Hanover — Health officials say a group of puppies recently rescued from Puerto Rico who interacted with the public on a Hanover restaurant patio are “potentially infected” with a disease transmissible to humans.

Five out of a group of 10 rescued puppies have become sick, and one tested positive for leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from animals to humans and other pets, according to a Friday news release from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Two of the puppies were euthanized, but the rest appear to be recovering or have not exhibited symptoms, their owners and state health officials said.

Several of the puppies were at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew Pizzeria on Sunday in Hanover for a fundraiser called “Meet the Satos,” where members of the public, including children, petted and played with the mixed-breed dogs and met student volunteers who are slated to visit Puerto Rico next year.

State officials are working to track down attendees of the event, as well as veterinarians and people who offered the dogs foster homes.

“Let me just stress that we think the risk of spread to people is relatively low,” state epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said by phone on Friday, noting that transmission requires “direct contact with an animal’s infected urine,” either by touching urine on the dog, the urine itself or an environment contaminated with urine.

Chan added that “there really is no risk to the public” for those who merely ate at the restaurant or passed through the area, as leptospirosis is not airborne.

Ramunto’s owner Tim Cullen emphasized in an interview on Friday that the event had taken place in an outdoor dog pen and had posed minimal risk to customers.

“It’s really important that people know that all the puppies were on the patio at all times,” he said.

Cullen said no staff had come into contact with the dogs and that the one puppy that tested positive for leptospirosis was not at the Ramunto’s event.

Chan noted, however, that dogs may still carry disease without displaying symptoms.

“We just want to make people aware that if they were at this event, if they had direct contact with the puppies, especially with their urine, they should be contacting us,” he said.

Anyone with questions about leptospirosis can call the New Hampshire Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 603-271-4496.

The state officials’ news release said symptoms of the bacterial disease can be “very mild to severe,” and typically include “fever, flu-like symptoms and gastrointestinal illness.”

“A minority of individuals can go on to develop severe symptoms including liver failure, kidney failure and central nervous system infection (meningitis),” the release said. “Antibiotics are available to both treat and prevent infection.”

Aimee Goodwin, a Norwich resident who runs Surfin’ Sato, the nonprofit that brought the group of 10 dogs to the U.S., said she had spent this past Monday rushing around the Upper Valley dispensing batches of antibiotics to pets and their foster owners.

“It was a very stressful, race-against-the-clock day,” she said.

Goodwin said the puppies had exhibited normal signs of fatigue after their journey from Puerto Rico, but then, around Monday, a few of them showed continued and more serious symptoms.

The rescue organization that provided the dogs to Goodwin also had given her records of leptospirosis immunization, so the operating assumption, she said, is that the animals received their shots after being infected — possibly through contaminated floodwaters that swamped Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit in September.

The vaccinations for leptospirosis actually worked against animal rescuers, Goodwin said, because the shots made it harder to avoid false positives when testing for the disease.

“It’s been heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, for the puppies this week,” she said.

Goodwin has six of the remaining puppies at her home in Norwich, and she said they’re “thriving” with help from antibiotics.

One of the foster households that Goodwin brought antibiotics to this week was the Thetford Center home of Sara Ecker, a lacrosse coach at Lebanon High, who praised Goodwin’s efforts after the diagnosis and said she still planned to adopt her dog.

“She was doing everything in her power to make sure that she had this under control,” Ecker said of Goodwin.

The dog received a clean bill of health from a vet, and is already settling in with the family. Ecker’s 10-year-old son has named her “Waffle” after the color of her fur.

“She’s got these ears you wouldn’t believe, and she’s got the softest fur,” Ecker said. “She’s so cute you can’t stand it.”

Despite this hangup, Goodwin said, she plans to continue bringing Puerto Rican rescue dogs to the area, albeit with more screening.

She added in Friday’s interview that this week’s local leptospirosis scare should illustrate to Upper Valley residents the hardship that the U.S. territory has been contending with since September.

“The message that I would like for people to consider is that this is just a little snapshot of what people’s lives are like every day in Puerto Rico right now,” she said.

“They don’t have a health department calling them and telling them what to do in the face of leptospirosis. They don’t have doxycycline to treat themselves and their pets prophylactically. (These) U.S. citizens don’t have the resources that we do every day.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.