Hanover Group Suspends Dog Rescues From Puerto Rico

  • 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. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/20/2017 1:19:32 PM
Modified: 11/21/2017 9:49:15 AM

Norwich — A local nonprofit that brings rescued puppies from Puerto Rico to the Upper Valley will suspend imports while it reassesses its medical standards after an infection scare.

Aimee Goodwin, executive director of Surfin’ Sato, said that after one dog’s diagnosis last week with leptospirosis, a disease communicable to humans, necessitated that two dogs from a group of 10 be euthanized, her organization will need to reconsider its methods.

“As we’ve learned in the aftermath of this tragedy, leptospirosis is complicated,” she said in a statement emailed to the Valley News on Sunday. “The vaccination is not wholly effective and the disease is rapidly spreading to private water sources in Puerto Rico. With this new knowledge, our organization has decided to take a break from evacuating dogs as we evaluate the best strategy for ensuring everyone’s safety.”

Before the incident, Surfin’ Sato’s policy had been to take dogs that had been vaccinated and isolated for at least a week, Goodwin said.

No human cases of leptospirosis have been reported from this incident, although state health officials are looking for people who may have come into contact with the dogs during a Nov. 12 event at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew Pizzeria’s outdoor patio in Hanover.

State officials have emphasized that people who merely ate at the restaurant or passed by are not at risk.

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

In an interview on Monday, Goodwin said two of the dogs had been out in public for other events, including a football game at Hanover High School last week.

The dogs were meeting a potential adopter at the game, and Goodwin was holding them in blankets throughout, she said.

“There might have been some light contact” with a friend of Goodwin’s who held a dog while she replaced a blanket, she said.

But for the most part, “they were sitting with me,” she said.

One of those dogs later was euthanized, but never received an official diagnosis of leptospirosis.

New Hampshire state epidemiologist Ben Chan on Monday said state officials encourage members of the public to call with questions or information.

“With every new report and question or concern we get, we are investigating and trying to understand what the risk to the public may be,” he said.

“The risk to humans is, we believe, low,” he added, noting that dog-to-human transmission requires direct contact with an infected animal’s urine.

He did not directly answer questions about the football game, saying that state officials had publicly asked attendees of the Ramunto’s event to call them because the gathering was focused on the dogs and was likely to involve animal-human contact.

If other incidents come up, he said, “we will certainly update our recommendations.”

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

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