Meet Ring-Ding, an adoptable puppy rescued from the south by Adopt-A-Dog of Greenwich.
A few weeks ago, kennel manager, Kristin Alouisa, and events coordinator, Brian Gordiski, made a 30-hour round-trip to South Carolina. Their purpose was to pull a mother and her litter of six puppies from an overrun, mom-and-pop type shelter in a remote location. During the ride home the Adopt-A-Dog team gave Ring-Ding his name. They also named his mother Hostess and the other five pups Twinkie, Yodel, Snowball, Cupcake and Suzie Q.
While Adopt-a-Dog operates as a sanctuary where dogs live out their days contentedly if they don't find a forever home, the "puppy house" fills and empties quickly.
And although Adopt-a-Dog's director Allyson Halm laments that not a single dog found a home at this fall's "Puttin' On The Dog" event, the inevitable phone calls from families seeking Christmas puppies are not much consolation.
Still, as awareness increases that pet stores source from puppy mills, and as rescuing grows in popularity, the solution would seem obvious: Match the supply of unwanted southern puppies with northern demand.
And, with black labs so popular in New England, but euthanized at high rates in the south, the solution sounds like a no-brainer.
If only it were that simple.
Canine Parvo Virus
The highly-contagious, often lethal virus known as Parvo, to which puppies are most vulnerable, is common in the south. According Dr. Putter of Greenwich Animal Hospital, a handful of factors converge to create the deadly situation.
"The environment is warmer and more hospitable to the virus. There's also a reluctance to spay and neuter, more roaming, and more unvaccinated pets in the south," explained Putter. "There are overall more animals who can get it."
Putter explained that Parvo is fecal-oral. "An infected dog sheds the virus in its feces and it is transferred through a mucus membrane – eyes, nose, or mouth. Parvo can remain in the environment for days or even weeks. A dog might step in it, sniff it, or lick his paws, lick your shoes. It just takes a trace a mount. And it's more virulent than it used to be."
Parvo: Puppies crash fast, essentially dying of dehydration
Hostess is healthy, though she carries the Parvo virus. This is because an adult dog's antibodies are sufficient to ward it off. And while Hostess was nursing her six puppies, she passed along her antibodies in her milk.
Once the puppies were weaned at around 6-8 weeks they became vulnerable and remained susceptible until two weeks after their first Distemper-Parainfluenza-Parvovirus vaccine.
All six pups spent at least two days at Greenwich Animal Hospital. Yodel and Cupcake were released, but went back after relapsing. Yodel was adopted directly form the hospital by Dr. Putter's brother Eric. After a struggle, Ring-Ding recovered and left the hospital on Friday, Dec. 14.
"The bill is $6,000, which represents a discount for hospitalization and intensive care," said Halm. "Dr. Kramer and Dr. Putter also travel here about twice a month to evaluate the dogs at no cost."
"It was a major effort to get the puppies to live," said Halm.
Parvo Protocol at Adopt-A-Dog
"We believe full disclosure is the only way to educate the public and let them know these problems exist," said Halm when asked whether she worries about scaring potential adopters.
Halm described the rigorous Parvo protocol at Adopt-A-Dog, adding that this is probably their fourth litter of Parvo from the south.
The puppies go straight from the van to the puppy house for the standard two-week quarantine. They are monitord constantly for signs of lethargy, vomiting, or diarreah, which would trigger an immediate trip to the vet. There are scrubs, gloves and booties, and a "puppy-only" volunteer rule during quarantine. Then there is the constant cleaning and disinfecting with a solution of bleach diluted in water.
Why Rescue from the South?
"Driving in the south, there were so many strays running along the highways and dead on the side of the roads that eventually I stopped looking out the window," said Alouisa. "You see dogs chained to fences or kept in small pens," she added. "Or running free, skinny and scared. They come to the kill shelters with little hope of finding a home. They almost have better chances roaming as strays."
Alouisa said the shelter Ring-Ding and his family were pulled from was about 50 miles in from the highway. "It was very remote, we drove down a dirt road to this couple's house, which was a trailer. As soon as we pulled in the driveway, our truck was surrounded by dogs, 50 or 60 dogs. Little dogs, big dogs, medium dogs."
Alouisa said she often grapples with the Why rescue puppies from the south? question. "When you meet them, it's all worthwhile," she said. "Plus I know how they're set for life once they get to adopt-A-Dog."
Alouisa paused and nodded her head reluctantly, as if asking herself the Why puppies from the south? question again. "But we just can't keep rescuing all these dogs."
Anyone interested in adopting Ring-Ding, his siblings, or any of the dogs at the sanctuary should go to http://www.adopt-a-dog.org/ or call (914) 273-1674.
Editor's note: This article previously was published by Greenwich Patch.