Rescue Oasis was a privately run kennel where dogs pulled from high-kill animal shelters stayed before going to rescues. A woman named Kathy Schroeder ran it.
Ms. Schroeder and MSMR both knew at least some of the dogs put on the transport had been exposed to distemper at Rescue Oasis.
After leaving Palmdale, the transport picked up 31 dogs and puppies in Modesto, CA for Save-a-Mutt Rescue in Stanwood, WA. Some of them rode in the van with the exposed dogs.
No one ever told Save-a-Mutt founder Jennifer Ward that its dogs rode in a van with dogs exposed to distemper; she only found out a month later when some of her puppies from that transport began to die.
Over the next few weeks, Save-a-Mutt euthanized 1 adult dog and 9 puppies infected with distemper. MSMR euthanized 8 puppies.
This post will examine the chain of events that led to the deaths of the dogs/puppies and what could have done to prevent it.
Canine Distemper: Highly Contagious, No Cure
Canine distemper is “a…..serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.”
It spreads through airborne exposure, direct contact with an infected animal, or indirect contact (exposure to bowls, blankets, etc. used by an infected animal).
Unlike parvo, which can survive in the environment for up to a year, distemper only survives a few hours at room temperature.
Canine distemper has an incubation period of 1-2 weeks but it can be as long as 4-5 weeks before an infected dog shows symptoms of the disease.
A dog can carry the virus for weeks without showing any symptoms and still infect other dogs.
Puppies are particularly susceptible because their immune systems aren’t fully developed.
Symptoms of distemper include:
watery discharge from the nose and eyes
lack of appetite
The virus attacks the nervous system as it progresses. This causes circling behavior, head tilting, seizures, muscle twitching, paralysis, and thickening of foot pads.
The virus is especially nasty because it’s extremely contagious, often fatal, and does not have a cure.
Once a dog is either exposed to or has distemper, it must be isolated to prevent the virus from spreading.
After recovering from distemper a dog can still shed the virus for up to 120 days.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says treatment usually consists of “supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections; control vomiting, diarrhea and neurologic symptoms; and combat dehydration through administration of fluids.”
Dogs Pulled from California Shelters Brought Distemper to Rescue Oasis
Last fall, two dogs infected with the distemper virus arrived at Rescue Oasis from California municipal shelters.
Benji (middle dog) arrived at Rescue Oasis in early November. He was put in isolation with these 2 dogs because they thought he had kennel cough. He was diagnosed with distemper after he arrived at a Washington rescue. Image from Rescue Oasis.
Happy Tails Dog Rescue in Oak Harbor, WA originally scheduled him for transport on November 9; however, Happy Tails pulled him from the transport because he showed signs of illness.
On November 13, Rescue Oasis posted a picture of Benji with 2 other dogs on its Facebook page. It said the dogs were in isolation for kennel cough.
Benji left Rescue Oasis on November 17 for transport to Happy Tails Dog Rescue. He went to an emergency vet on November 22.
The vet tested Benji and found he had distemper. Happy Tails founder Kim Welsh then relayed Benji’s diagnosis to Ms. Schroeder at Rescue Oasis.
Simon arrived at Rescue Oasis in November. His transport was cancelled a few times because he was sick. He was eventually diagnosed with distemper. Rescue Oasis put Sadie Mae and her puppies in a kennel next to him. Photo from Rescue Oasis.
A black, long-haired terrier mix named Simon arrived at Rescue Oasis around October 23. He came from the Kern County Animal Servicesin Bakersfield, CA.
Simon was scheduled to go to Animal Defense Rescue in Eastsound on Orcas Island in late November. But on November 23 a representative from the rescue contacted Ms. Myers to pull Simon from the transport because he was “too sick” it was “too risky” to put him on it.
Ms. Myers said she later learned “Simon had goopy eyes but no cough or sneezing.”
The representative contacted Ms. Myers with CruzinPawz on December 9 to again reschedule Simon’s transport.
She added that “she knew he had distemper on November 23, and that he was still being cared for at Rescue Oasis.”
Ms. Schroeder isolated Simon when began showing symptoms of what she initially thought was kennel cough. Eventually he was diagnosed with distemper and went to Ms. Schroeder’s house to recover.
He left Rescue Oasis on January 4 for Animal Defense Rescue in Oak Harbor.
Dogs Coming to Washington Exposed to Distemper Virus at Rescue Oasis
Main Street Mutt Rescue used Rescue Oasis last fall to hold some dogs it pulled from shelters before transporting them to Washington.
At the end of November the rescue had 2 females and their puppies at Rescue Oasis – Sabrina, a grey and white pit bull with 8 puppies, and Sadie Mae, a shepherd mix with 6 puppies.
Sabrina arrived at Rescue Oasis in early November.
Ms. Schroeder put Sabrina in the same kennel in an isolation room that Simon and the other 2 dogs occupied a few days earlier.
Sabrina arrived at Rescue Oasis in November. She gave birth to her puppies in the same kennel that Benji occupied. Photo from Rescue Oasis.
Since the distemper virus is only contagious for a few hours, she and her puppies probably weren’t exposed to it in the kennel unless someone carried it in after having direct contact with a dog exposed to distemper.
Sadie Mae arrived at Rescue Oasis in mid-November with 6 puppies. Ms. Schroeder put her in the same isolation room as Simon, the terrier mix that showed signs of sickness.
Ms. Schroeder said all the kennels in isolation had metal sheets between them to prevent diseases/viruses from spreading.
But the sheets were only about 4 feet high, and because the kennels were made of chain link fencing, I don’t believe they were adequate to prevent infected dogs from spreading the virus.
Based on this post from MSMR’s Facebook page, we know Recue Oasis kenneled Sadie Mae and her puppies next to Simon:
Sadie Mae arrived at Rescue Oasis in November. She and her puppies were kenneled next to Simon who was in isolation because he had “goopy eyes.”
“On November 23rd, however, Ms. Schroeder notified MSMR that there was a possible distemper exposure from a dog who was kenneled next to the litter of puppies. We were told that there was a board between the kennels, the dog was showing no clinical signs except goopy eyes. No sneezing or coughing. We were told a vet came out, and between us, the vet and Kathy, at rescue oasis, we decided to go ahead and vaccinate the puppies early in case of exposure. We were told the vet was not concerned at all about the puppies because of lack of clinical signs from the dog kenneled next to them. Sadie Mae and Puppies got their health certs.”
This statement shows that, on November 23, Ms. Schroeder and MSMR both knew that Sadie Mae and her litter scheduled for transport to MSMR 7 days later had been exposed to distemper.
Dogs Exposed to Distemper Virus Infected Other Dogs on Transport
While enroute to Main Street Mutt Rescue, Ms. Myers stopped in Modesto, CA to meet a woman who was fostering 31 dogs and puppies going to Save-a-Mutt Rescue in Marysville,WA:
Josie – Large Breed Mix with 10 puppies
Sicily – Large Breed Mix with 4 puppies
5 Chihuahua puppies
4 Chihuahua mix puppies
6 German Shepherd puppies
During part the transport, some of the exposed dogs from Rescue Oasis rode in the same van as the dogs going to Save-a-Mutt (they left Modesto in 2 vans).
While unloading the dogs and puppies in Marysville, she noticed that Sadie Mae, the dog going to MSMR with her litter, had “green snot” coming out of her nose.
None of the other dogs appeared to be sick although Ms. Myers said one of Sadie Mae’s puppies had been sitting by itself during the trip and didn’t eat with the rest of the litter.
Main Street Mutt Rescue
After unloading the dogs and puppies in Marysville, Ms. Myers and her volunteer drove to Burlington to drop off the dogs and puppies for MSMR.
About 3 hours after the dogs arrived, MSMR texted Ms. Myers to say that she took one of the puppies to an emergency vet because he “seemed lethargic and had a mucus poop.”
The vet diagnosed the puppy with pneumonia, and they euthanized him later that night. The next day MSMR took the Mom and the rest of the litter to a vet who thought they had kennel cough or pneumonia. He gave them antibiotics and sent them home.
I don’t know if anyone from MSMR informed the veterinarian that the dogs had been exposed to distemper.
Over the next several days more puppies began to get sick. On December 8, MSMR informed Ms. Myers that the vet did a PCR culture to determine if they had distemper.
On December 13, MSMR told Ms. Myers some of the dogs tested positive for distemper and made a public announcement on its Facebook the next day.
Ultimately, MRMR euthanized 8 puppies due to distemper.
Sicily was a stray in California rescued by Save-a-Mutt. She was exposed to distemper on the transport from Rescue Oasis and had to be euthanized on Christmas day. She contracted distemper because she hadn’t completed her series of distemper vaccinations. Photo from Save-a-Mutt.
No one told Save-a-Mutt founder Jennifer Ward that some of her dogs and puppies rode with the dogs exposed to distemper, even after MSMR’s vet confirmed that some of their dogs from Rescue Oasis tested positive for distemper on December 13.
In mid-December, one of the puppies developed respiratory problems. Ms. Ward took to him to the vet on December 19 and told Ms. Myers that it may have kennel cough.
Ms. Myers did NOT tell her that some of Save-a-Mutt’s dogs rode in the same van as some of the MSMR dogs diagnosed with distemper.
On December 22, Jennifer euthanized the puppy due to seizures and neurological problems.
On Christmas day, she euthanized Sicily, the mother of one of the litters that arrived on December 1.
The next day, Jennifer contacted Ms. Myers to let her know she put down some of the dogs from Rescue Oasis due to distemper.
Only then, 2 weeks after she knew the diagnosis for MSMR’s puppies, did Ms. Myers tell Jennifer that MSMR had to put down some of their puppies due to distemper.
Ultimately, Save-a-Mutt euthanized Sicily and 9 puppies from 3 different litters.
Distemper: Difficult to Diagnose, Extremely Contagious
Distemper is a particularly insidious virus because it’s extremely contagious and usually fatal. Dogs that do survive often have permanent neurological damage.
According to DVM360.com, the virus is difficult to diagnose because initial symptoms can appear identical to “run-in-the mill kennel cough.”
The article also notes that acutely infected animals shed distemper in all body secretions.
It spreads “by direct contact, by aerosol or respiratory droplet exposure. Dogs are capable of aerosolizing droplets up to 20 feet, meaning “this disease can be considered an “air-borne” contagion.”
But although distemper is hard to diagnose and control, people can take steps to prevent it from spreading once they identify the virus.
Dog Deaths Were Preventable
What makes the deaths of these 18 dogs and puppies even more tragic is that they could have been prevented.
Pet lovers across Washington celebrated on May 28 because the Gig Harbor City Council voted 4-3 to ban retail sale of dogs from puppy mills. The ban also includes the sale of cats and rabbits.
Instead, the city will adopt what’s known as the humane model which only allows pet stores to have adoption events from animal rescues and shelters.
Gig Harbor is the fourth city in Washington to ban the retail sales of pets. Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Poulsbo passed bans as well.
California, Maryland, and nearly 300 US cities have passed similar measures to crack down on the cruel puppy mill industry.
The bans prevent pet stores from buying puppies from out-of-state, mass-producing breeders also known as ‘puppy mills.’
Puppy Mills: Inhumane Dog Breeding Operations
Here are just a few of the many citizens who made the ban on retail pets sales in Gig Harbor a reality. Special thanks to our partners with Bailing Out Benji, Best Friends Animal Society, and The Humane Society of the United States – Puppy Mills Campaign and many others who helped guide this effort along. Photo from Kim Siebens.
A puppy mill is an inhumane commercial dog breeding facility.
The people that run them often disregard the health and well-being of dogs by lowering overhead and maximizing profits.
These massive breeders enjoy little to no government oversight and routinely put profits above the welfare of their dogs.
They treat their dogs as nothing more than breeding machines and puppies as nothing more than agricultural products.
They often sell puppies to pet stores to hide this cruelty at their facilities.
Local Resident Spurs Campaign
The effort in Gig Harbor was spearheaded by local resident Angela Sisney. She brought the issue to the city council last January.
Councilmember Jenni Woock worked closely with local citizens and dozens of concerned animal advocates throughout the state to enact this historic change.
The Council’s passage of the ban shows how one individual has the power to spark an army of supporters to make their community safer for pets and people.
Currently, Gig Harbor does not have any stores that sell pets; however, I believe this preventative approach sets an example for Washington cities that haven’t passed a ban. It also and keeps pet stores that sell puppies from irresponsible breeders out of the community.
Ultimately, our goal is to convince the Legislature to enact a statewide ban on the sale of dogs from puppy mills.
I truly hope Kitsap County will follow Gig Harbor’s lead when they vote on this measure later this year.
Kim Siebens, is the President of Their Voice, a nonprofit organization which educates people on animal protection and provides resources for underserved pets and their owners.
She founded “Their Voice” in order to educate the community puppy mills stop people from unknowingly supporting that cruel industry. Kim grew up on a small family farm in Sequim, WA.
Kim moved to Kitsap County in 2006. She now resides in Bremerton, WA with her significant other, Michael and their 4 dogs: Riley, Maggie, Louie, and Buddy.