A Michigan family ended up with two very sick puppies after adopting seemingly healthy dogs from the Marshall County Humane Society.
Now the family wants the shelter to pay almost $4,500 in veterinarian bills on "good faith" the animals were healthy.
On Christmas Day, the brothers from the same litter were diagnosed with canine parvovirus, which likes to attack puppies' intestines because they're not fully developed.
Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, severe vomiting and bloody, foul smelling diarrhea.
Those are the signs the family began seeing after adopting Thunder and Lightning on Dec. 22.
"On the way home, Lightning, our short-haired puppy, threw up a few times, but we thought it was due to eating the puppy food right before we left the humane society and maybe a bit of motion sickness from the 250-mile drive," said Pat Donahue, of Waterford, Mich., who made the long drive for a Bernese mountain dog mix.
But the vomiting continued through Christmas Day. By then, the other puppy also was sick and the veterinarian made the unfortunate diagnosis.
"What started out as an early Christmas gift for the kids turned into heartbreak," Donahue said.
Dehydration and death can occur if not treated quickly, so the family made the decision to save the newest members of the family.
"Between the IVs, medications and having to keep the pups in isolation due to the contagious nature of the virus, the vet bills continued to rise," Donahue said. "After continuous treatment for five days and nights, the puppies were finally able to go home after beating the worst of the virus."
Donahue contacted the humane society Dec. 28 and was told the puppies weren't tested for parvo, although they had been vaccinated and de-wormed before adoption.
Now he wants his money back
"We offered his adoption fee back, but we run on a shoestring and I'm just not in the position to help pay bills," said Marshall County Humane Society director Nancy Cox.
Adoption contracts say owners are responsible for veterinarian bills.
"We've adopted out thousands of animals and never come up against something like this," Cox said. "Both puppies' stools were healthy."
According to Doug Hoeffler of Parrett Veterinary Clinic in Plymouth, dogs cannot be tested for parvo until symptoms are showing; otherwise, they will test negative.
Once dogs contract the virus, veterinarians vary on an incubation period of four to 10 days before the virus rears its ugly head.
"Unfortunately, I've seen this happen at least once at every shelter I work with in northern Indiana," said Hoeffler, a veterinarian for 26 years.
No other dogs at the Marshall County shelter contracted the virus, according to Cox, who showed the dogs in an unannounced visit.
"We disinfect every day as if there is parvo, distemper or other diseases," Cox said.
Jennifer Schriefer, of Elkhart, adopted one of Thunder's and Lightning's siblings.
"Mine wasn't sick at all," she said. "It's wide-eyed and rambunctious."
One reason humane shelters ask new dog owners to sign a contract for animals to be checked by a veterinarian within 72 hours of adoption is because immune systems may falter, according to Cox.
Stress, changes in environment or the virus being carried on clothing are just a few reasons the virus may manifest, although the most common means are excretion exposure, according to local veterinarians.
A litter from one female can also have up to four or five fathers, leaving each puppy with different DNA, veterinarians noted.
Kryder Veterinary Clinic in Granger tells clients upfront that treatments for parvo will cost from $3,500 to $5,000 per animal, said veterinarian Jennifer Anderson.
Parrett's Veterinary Clinic charges from $400 to $600, so that animals are less likely to be euthanized, Hoeffler said.
"The younger they are when the virus breaks, the higher the mortality rate," Hoeffler said. "After four to five months, it's unusual to lose one."
Since the virus is highly contagious, all dogs should be vaccinated annually, veterinarians agreed.
"We just had a 13-year-old diagnosed with parvo," Anderson said. "The owner thought you only needed the shot when the dog was a puppy."
Although shelters disinfect for parvo, the virus permeates wood and concrete. The virus can also be carried while visiting pet shows, pet stores, obedience classes, veterinarian offices or on clothing from homes that have not been disinfected from exposure.