Highly contagious virus can be deadly; BVSPCA will cover treatment bills.

UPDATE, 12 p.m. Tuesday: A previous version of this story stated that one of the dogs from the mega adoption event diagnosed with parvo was adopted through the Delaware Humane Association. According to the DHA, none of their dogs have tested positive for parvo.

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UPDATE, 11:45 a.m. Monday: According to Amy Hulse, the BVSPCA is now taking full responsibility for Hercules' emergency vet bills. BVSPCA marketing director Linda Torelli confirms that they will pay for costs associated with the parvo cases.

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UPDATE, 11 a.m. Monday: The BVSPCA has issued the following statement:

"This mega event placed 1,181 animals in homes. Many of them came from overcrowded shelters where they had little chance of survival. Others had been waiting in no-kill shelters to find a family without luck, such as nine-year-old Heathcliff, who found a forever family at Mega after 358 days in the BVSPCA’s care; a partner’s Hurricane Harvey survivor who got a great match after more than a year; and another shelter partner’s 10-year old long-timer finally went home.

Our hearts break for the six puppies impacted by parvo and their families. Each family has had the opportunity for free care at our clinic or a VCA hospital, and all adoption fees have been or are in the process of being refunded. We’ve also proactively reached out to families that might have a risk of disease spread, such as littermates of the affected puppies. These are unfortunate cases that are a small minority representing 0.5% of the population in an event that has saved thousands of lives in its three-year history.

All puppies available for adoption through the BVSPCA have received age-appropriate vaccines.

'Vaccinations for puppies involve a process staged in time phases over a period of months, and a puppy isn’t fully vaccinated until four months of age,' said Dr. Sheri Wood, BVSPCA Medical Director. 'Properly vaccinated puppies can be susceptible to various diseases even when all the proper protocols are followed.'

Wood continued, 'Parvo testing is known to be unpredictable. Usually, a dog doesn’t test positive until it’s symptomatic,” said Dr. Wood. “We see very few parvo cases, and the ones we do have a high treatment response and survival rate.  All of the puppies at the event were examined several times by veterinary staff, and none were symptomatic prior to or during the event.'

Parvo is an unfortunate reality in sheltering, and every shelter faces it from time to time. The shelter veterinary medicine community is divided on quarantines, as doing so can increase the risk of stress and disease outbreak while also delaying the lifesaving process. That said, all puppies at the event had been held at least five days and in many cases two weeks or more by either the BVSPCA or the sending rescue prior to being available for adoption. In addition, any puppies transferred from another shelter or rescue had health certificates issued by a veterinarian as part of an exam prior to transport."

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UPDATE, 10 a.m. Monday: Another mega adoption dog diagnosed with parvo has died, after the adopter spent more than $1,000 on emergency vet care.

Amy Hulse, of Frederica, adopted a mixed-breed puppy named Hercules.

"He didn't even make it five days," she said.

According to her adoption paperwork, ten-week-old Hercules came from North Florida Animal Rescue and received two out of three parvo vaccinations before the event.

Hulse and other adopters at the mega adoption event were given a veterinary voucher, valid only at VCA Animal Hospitals. She took Hercules to VCA the same day she adopted him because he had a crusty nose.

"The vet said maybe the flu or kennel cough and gave us meds and sent us home," she said.

On Sunday, Hercules had vomiting and diarrhea, but Hulse thought that may have been due to the medication. It was Monday night when the dog's health took a noticeable dive. Hulse took him back to VCA Tuesday morning, where he was diagnosed with parvo and hospitalized. 

"We finally got ahold of someone at BVSPCA willing to help us at that point," she said. "They told us to bring him to their New Castle shelter and they would take him to West Chester for treatment free of charge."

Hulse drove Hercules to New Castle and sent him on his way, fingers crossed. Thursday morning, she got the phone call. Her dog was dead.

"They offered me another dog," she said. "But at this point, I don't even want to bring another one into the house because of the virus. I just want some financial assistance. We shouldn't have to pay $1,000 for vet care within the first week."

Hulse has three other dogs in her home. She took one of them, a senior, to her vet to be parvo tested after hearing his stomach make loud gurgling noises. The dog tested negative. She has ordered parvo tests for the other two dogs.

BVSPCA has not yet responded to requests for information.

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A Whaleyville, Maryland woman is warning of a possible parvovirus outbreak at the recent Brandywine Valley SPCA Mega Adoption event in Harrington. She took to social media on Sunday, December 16, after her new puppy, Little Man, died.

"I am so incredibly sad. I can't concentrate on anything and feel so helpless. This is not what was supposed to happen," wrote Cyndi Hill Truitt.

The mega adoption event took place on December 8 and 9 at the Delaware State Fairgrounds. Over 1,100 cats and dogs were adopted out over the weekend, at a fee of just $25 each. In addition to the BVSPCA, participating animal groups included the Animal Rescue League of Berks County (which brought only cats), Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Center, Crossing Paths Animals Rescue, Currituck County, Delaware Humane Association, South Jersey Animal Shelter, St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center and Northeastern SPCA North Carolina.

"We went to the mega adoption event in Harrington and adopted two beautiful puppies," Hill Truitt said. "After one day the smallest pup's health began to decline. We took him to the vet right away. He was diagnosed with parvo."

That puppy, Little Man, a mixed breed, died a few days later. The other puppy Hill Truitt adopted at the event, Daisy, became symptomatic on Saturday.

"Even though we had bleached and thrown away new toys, and taken every precaution we could, Daisy is spending the night at the ER and I am praying she is strong enough to recover," she said.

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, parvovirus, or "parvo," is extremely contagious. Though all dogs are at risk of contracting the virus, young, unvaccinated puppies are most susceptible. Parvo is transmitted through contaminated feces, which can make its way to a dog via contact with another dog or with contaminated surfaces, such as a kennel floor, water bowl or leash.

Signs of parvo include loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or hypothermia, vomiting and severe, often bloody, diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea often lead to dehydration, the damage of which can sometimes lead to septic shock. There is no cure for parvovirus; treatment consists mostly of managing dehydration while the dog's body fights the virus.

If your puppy or dog shows any of these signs, the AVMA recommends contacting your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will likely diagnose the illness through fecal testing. Most parvo deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours after symptoms appear. Isolation is necessary, as well as thorough cleaning with bleach. Consult with your veterinarian before allowing other dogs to come in contact with your dog or your dog's environment.

It is extremely rare, but certain strains of canine parvovirus can be transmitted to cats. It cannot be transmitted to humans.

Hill Truitt is not only sad, but angry. 

"Not just because I may need to take out a second mortgage to pay for vet expenses, but I truly believe there was negligence at some point with the event I attended," she said. "I contacted the Brandywine SPCA immediately ... It took them three days to return my call, and said if I wanted to take the pups to West Chester clinic they would treat them ... At our vet alone, several puppies adopted from the same event have been diagnosed with parvo."

It is not yet clear if all the dogs at the mega adoption event had been isolated for a sufficient period of time and/or vaccinated for parvo, but the BSPCA website states that the $25 fee included "age-appropriate vaccinations." BVSPCA did not immediately return requests for comment.

This story was edited to include the fact that the Animal Rescue League of Berks County brought only cats to the event.