“Why are Redemption Paws dogs rescued from Texas?”
We began rescuing dogs from Texas in September 2017 in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. We quickly learned that Texas performs the highest volume of dog euthanasias annually compared to any other place in the USA or Canada. We have established amazing rescue partners throughout Texas who have dedicated their lives to helping save these dogs. Our partners ensure that our dogs are given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian prior to coming to Canada. Our organization adheres to all of Canada’s import requirements when bringing dogs into the country, including working with brokers and federal inspection agencies.
“What sort of veterinary care do you provide for your dogs?”
All of our dogs are evaluated by a registered veterinarian in both the USA and Canada prior to adoption.
Our dogs must be given a health certificate by a veterinarian in Texas before they are cleared for travel to Canada. This means they need to have a normal physical examination, be free of concerning symptoms, and have received a rabies vaccine. Our dogs are given a set of core vaccinations as well prior to travel. Dogs who are deemed unfit for travel are held back to receive any necessary medical care prior to being scheduled for future transport to Canada.
When in Canada, our dogs attend a scheduled veterinary appointment. Our veterinarians ensure that all of our dogs receive the following prior to adoption:
- A general veterinary physical examination
- A complete set of “core vaccinations” as recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which includes vaccinating against rabies virus, canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus type 2, and canine parvovirus
- Spay or neuter surgery
- 4Dx Plus testing, which is a blood test that screens for 6 vector-borne infections including heartworm, Lyme, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia
- Deworming medication
- Monthly heartworm, flea, and tick preventative medication
If a dog tests positive for a vector-borne disease, they are treated for it. If they are diagnosed with heartworm infection, they are treated using the full protocol from the American Heartworm Society. At the same time, all of our dogs are kept on monthly preventative medications to protect against heartworm, fleas, and ticks in order to prevent the spread of any of these diseases, should they be present.
Despite lack of regulations and federal guidelines, we are proud of how our veterinary efforts have evolved because our rescue provides exceptional access to veterinary care and does not “cut costs” with treatments. We do not receive “free” veterinary care and we do not withhold treatments when necessary. We pursue referrals to specialist veterinarians for advanced care, diagnostics (including ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs), and surgery if they are deemed necessary for our dogs’ health and wellbeing.
“Are imported dogs bringing canine distemper virus to Canada?”
Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects dogs, ferrets, and wildlife including foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and mink. Canine distemper virus is extremely prominent in the Ontario racoon population. Ontario vets advise to vaccinate dogs against distemper for these reasons. All dogs are at risk of infection with this virus so distemper still occurs sporadically amongst vaccinated dog populations. The dogs that primarily develop illness are those that are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or young. As with many viral infections, there is no specific cure for distemper. Treatment is geared towards providing supportive care for clinically affected dogs and reducing the intensity of their symptoms. Hospitalization in an isolation ward provides the best chance at recovery but most clinics refuse this due to the highly contagious nature of the disease. Distemper is not a zoonotic disease, meaning it is not transmissible to humans.
Unlike the rabies vaccine, there is no mandate for vaccinating a dog against distemper prior to bringing them to Canada. Despite this, our rescue has taken the extra precaution to require our dogs be vaccinated while they are still in Texas. We also ensure they are deemed “fully vaccinated” by a Canadian veterinarian prior to their adoption in Canada.
Like all vaccines, the distemper vaccine does not have an 100% efficacy rate. Our rescue has unfortunately experienced two instances of a distemper outbreak during our near 5-year history. We have always been honest and public about these events via social media. When a disease outbreak occurs, we do a number of things for the safety of our dogs and their families. We perform contact tracing to determine if dogs may have been exposed, as well as inform any adopters or fosters of potential exposure. Adopters of dogs who had passed the initial quarantine period were informed of the situation and were required to sign a distemper waiver to keep their dog away from dogs that have not been fully vaccinated against distemper for 3 months due to potential viral shedding. We have strict protocols in place for quarantine and isolation. We pursue all recommended diagnostic testing and available veterinary treatment. Given the highly infectious nature of distemper and the fact a hospitalized dog must be strictly isolated, it is common for veterinarians to decline seeing a dog in their hospital when disease exposure is suspected. During the outbreaks our dogs were declined from every major emergency hospital due to their protocols surrounding infectious diseases, lack of isolation space, and shortages in having the appropriate staffing necessary to care for the dogs. The COVID pandemic further burdened access to veterinary care as hospitals explained their intensive care units (ICUs) were at capacity. As such, we have coordinated other ways to provide reliable veterinary care if needed, such as using mobile veterinarians to help care for our dogs. It is fair to note that even if these hospitals were able to accommodate our dogs as patients, the prognosis for dogs with progressive symptoms of distemper is quite poor, so there was unfortunately minimal care they could offer.
For our fosters who experienced distemper, they received near around the clock care and support via phone, zoom and text. They received all necessary supplies and were thoroughly educated about the highly infectious nature of the disease and why the dogs were not in hospital. No one was neglected or left without support. We consistently advocated for our dogs when speaking with veterinarians, pleading for at least humane euthanasia if care could not be provided for the dogs who were “becoming progressively too ill to survive”. The message from the veterinary profession was clear – there was little that could be done to help these dogs, and it was not safe for their other immunocompromised patients to hospitalize our affected dogs. It was an extremely sad and frustrating situation to be in, dealing with a disease for which there is no cure and for which only minimal supportive treatment options exist. We did our best in a difficult situation. We are certain we are not the only ones who have faced diminished access to veterinary care but we are one of the few to speak publicly about it.
One of our survivors of distemper is Clinton. His now adopters were educated in detail about the situation and indicated they fully understood his health concerns. They provided video updates about his condition and we continued with follow up through routine check in’s. When he was adopted, we all celebrated his ongoing recovery with his forever family.
We have also cared for foster dog sisters who lived together, named Scarlett and Hermione. Both were vaccinated in Texas one month before transport, however only one became clinically ill with distemper and later passed away. The other sister remained symptom free. This is an example of how cruel and undiscerning this disease is, and that despite our best efforts with vaccination it is not always preventable.
Experiencing distemper outbreaks was deeply traumatic for our rescue. Animal welfare workers are humans who love animals and have made it our dedicated mission to help and save them. To imply that we simply don’t care is hurtful. Our rescue will continue doing everything we can to keep events like this from happening again.
Note: The red bar asking for confidentiality is standard on many of our our mass emails to fosters. We are subject to a high level of harassment. In this case we made the public aware via social media as well as reached out to any applicable agencies. Fosters and adopters were encouraged to share this information. The elapsed 12 days before contacting fosters was because we did not know it was distemper and had no reason to believe so.
“What about heartworm disease?”
Heartworm disease is caused by an infectious parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. It is transmitted between dogs by mosquitoes, which are required in the development of the worm’s life-cycle. In order to transmit the disease, an infected dog must be bitten by a mosquito, the heartworm must undergo development within the mosquito (for a number of days), and then that mosquito must bite another dog. Heartworms cannot be transmitted between dogs without this mosquito vector. When heartworms become adults they live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels, which causes the clinical symptoms of heartworm disease. Heartworm is not zoonotic so it cannot be transmitted to humans.
Heartworm is a preventable and treatable disease. Our rescue takes in a number of heartworm positive dogs annually, all of whom we treat. Some of these dogs have been previously diagnosed and treated for heartworm while in Texas, some of them have been negative when tested for heartworm in Texas and then were found to be positive on retest in Canada, and some of them have been newly diagnosed. In dog rescue, you cannot avoid identifying some dogs with heartworm infection and we refuse to stop taking in dogs because they might have this disease. An important part of rescue is understanding that we are not only saving the ‘perfect’ dogs.
The cost of heartworm treatment is expensive (the average retail cost for heartworm treatment is over $2000) and it requires many months and rounds of medications. Our rescue follows the American Heartworm Society’s protocol for treating all infected dogs. Many shelters choose to euthanize dogs instead of treating them due to the financial burden and common occurrence of the parasite. There have also been numerous immiticide shortages (the medication that kills the adult heartworms used in the protocol), which has at times created a backlog in treatment. Rather than giving up, our rescue has always continued to treat dogs, which has included resorting to a second line protocol. Through this protocol, the dogs are put through a prolonged method of treatment with the goal of still killing the worms while also preventing the spread of the parasite.
All of our dogs, regardless of heartworm status, are kept on heartworm preventatives to protect against any new transmissions of the parasite. We inform all of our fosters and adopters about the risk of heartworm infection and we educate them about how to care for these dogs when they are undergoing treatment. We strongly believe in providing these dogs with the opportunity to receive treatment and then live a healthy life thereafter. We believe that dogs who are heartworm positive are valuable and deserve to live their best life. No one wants an immediate cure to heartworm more than dog rescuers, but with reason and medical logic, we’ve effectively cured hundreds of dogs from the disease while saving them from death row. Anyone who sees flaws in that has no sense of compassion for animals.