301 code violations & losing newly transported pups to parvovirus wasn’t bad enough?
CAMDEN, Delaware––That the First State Animal Center & SPCA in Camden, Delaware recently lost 19 puppies to parvovirus is no great shock to veterans of animal care and rescue: sometimes bloody diarrhea happens among stressed puppies brought or transported to shelters, no matter what anyone does.
Once a parvo outbreak starts, it can become extremely difficult to control, even with the best of veterinary care and prompt isolation and quarantine of both ill and exposed puppies.
Neither is the worst shock of the episode––though it is a shocker––that the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare has hit the First State Animal Center & SPCA with $12,000 in fines thus far in 2021, for more than 300 violations of animal care regulations that allegedly contributed to the deaths.
What if the case involved a laboratory or puppy mill?
Had the First State Animal Center & SPCA been a laboratory or a puppy mill caught with as many violations, animal advocacy organizations would be lined up half a dozen deep, demanding fines ten times higher, the firing of key personnel, and that the facilities be permanently closed.
But beyond all that, the shocker of shockers is, or should be, that First State Animal Center & SPCA director Jon Parana reportedly told media, including Shannon Marvel McNaught of the Delaware News Journal, that as she wrote and the Delaware News Journal headlined, “They’d do it all over again.”
Elaborated McNaught, “Parana said they’d do it all over again if they had to.”
If they had to?
No one had to neglect basic care
Transported to the First State Animal Center & SPCA from an unidentified Arkansas rescue, the truckload of 83 dogs “arrived at First State on February 14, 2021,” McNaught explained.
“After receiving three complaints including allegations of ‘improper transport, inadequate staffing and medical care provided, and disease transmission,’ animal welfare officers inspected the shelter on February 27, 2021,” McNaught continued.
“They found 301 violations of Delaware’s Shelter Standards Law,” including 83 counts of invalid health certificates, 64 counts of failure to adhere to veterinary protocol, 51 counts of failure to perform intake exams within three days of arrival, and 103 counts of failure to maintain records.”
Said Parana, “We were told if they [the dogs] weren’t rescued they were going to be euthanized. And if there’s 85 dogs that are going to die, and we’re there at the spot, we’re going to do our damnedest to save them.”
Neglecting intake exams is not a life-saving procedure
But the First State Animal Center & SPCA did not have to neglect intake examinations and veterinary protocol to try to save the puppies. Quite the opposite.
And transporting dogs with invalid health certificates is not a life-saving procedure, either. Rather, it is how diseases lethal to dogs––and occasionally humans––spread, sometimes worldwide.
This is why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in June 2021 prohibited imports of dogs from 113 nations known to have endemic canine rabies, eradicated from the U.S. circa 50 years ago.
“During 2020, the CDC discovered more than 450 dogs arriving in the U.S. with falsified or fraudulent rabies certificates, a 52% increase compared with the previous two years,” National Public Radio reported.
At least one of those dogs, brought from Azerbaijan, proved to be actively rabid.
Operating since 1953, and from the present shelter since 2001, the First State Animal Center & SPCA did not import rabid dogs into Delaware, but what it did do was quite bad enough.
Delaware Office of Animal Welfare executive director Christina Motoyoshi in an April 30, 2021 letter to the First State Animal Center & SPCA observed that “Thirteen of the 83 dogs [brought to Arkansas] tested positive for parvovirus, and by the time of the February 27, 2021 inspection, nine of them had died,” McNaught recounted.
In addition, McNaught wrote, “Fourteen of the dogs had ringworm, a contagious fungal skin infection. They were not properly isolated.”
Parana, according to McNaught, blamed the crisis on “the shelter’s former advising veterinarian, who resigned shortly after the transport.”
Both parvovirus and ringworm are easily recognized by experienced shelter workers, however, who could be expected to know how to respond to contain an outbreak of either disease––or both––even before what should have been the prompt arrival of veterinary help.
Shelter director was a pastry baker
But Parana was not an experienced shelter worker. He may have been a somewhat experienced First State Animal Center & SPCA volunteer, having appeared in a November 2017 publicity photo accepting a check for the shelter from the Dover Federal Credit Union and having been tagged by his wife Angela in connection with adoption promotions in October 2017 and January, April, and May 2018.
Parana’s most recent previous jobs, however, appear to have been as a baker for restaurants called Bake My Day in Fenwick Island, Delaware; Nonna’s Sweet Treats, in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware; and Avenue 67 Café, operated from the same location as Nonna’s Sweet Treats after Parana and wife Angela took over the lease in 2016. The Avenue 67 Café is no longer in business.
Former First State Animal Center & SPCA director Kevin Usilton, paid $40,700 a year after seven years’ service and 30 years in the animal care and control field, in September 2019 accepted a substantial raise to head Baltimore County Animal Services. Usilton, before coming to the First State Animal Center & SPCA, put in time with the Baltimore City Bureau of Animal Control, the Humane Society of Wicomico County, the Delaware Humane Association, and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton, Ohio.
Parana succeeded Usilton in January 2020.
Fine could have been reduced if shelter came into compliance within six months
The Delaware Office of Animal Welfare initially fined the First State Animal Center & SPCA $8,300.
“A contributing factor,” Motoyoshi told McNaught, “was that the Office of Animal Welfare has provided multiple educational meetings and discussions with the First State Animal Center & SPCA regarding the requirements set in law.”
“Motoyoshi offered to reduce the fine to $5,000 if all requirements were met during a follow-up inspection,” McNaught wrote, “but that didn’t happen. A June 24, 2021 inspection found 16 more violations, many of which were repeats, according to a July 8, 2021 letter from Motoyoshi.”
That earned the First State Animal Center & SPCA a second fine of $4,250.
The June 24, 2021 inspection found “continued deficiencies” in record keeping and still inadequate veterinary protocols, McNaught reported.
Another dog died
“Another violation was issued over a dog who died,” after having not been seen by a veterinarian in a timely manner,” McNaught continued.
“During that incident,” McNaught added, “state and federal law may have been broken in the administration of controlled substances by non-veterinary staff, according to the Motoyoshi letter.”
Specifically, McNaught summarized, “First State could not provide a current U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration license, required for the use of controlled substances in a May  euthanization.”
The June 24, 2021 inspection also found that several First State Animal Center & SPCA kennels “had protruding wire and exposed sharp edges that could injure dogs inside,” Motoyoshi advised the shelter in writing.
As of September 28, 2021, Parana told McNaught, the First State Animal Center & SPCA application for a Drug Enforcement Administration license to keep euthanasia drugs remained “pending.”
“Kennel doors deemed unsafe appeared to have been removed,” McNaught said.
Parana blamed the record-keeping deficiencies on “software issues.”
“Prior to the February trip to Arkansas, First State had only 12 dogs at its shelter, according to Parana,” McNaught said.
The former First State Animal Center & SPCA veterinarian, who subsequently resigned, “had been in touch with an Arkansas rescue that needed help with 30 puppies, Parana said. He authorized her to go get them.
“A handful of staff made the 22-hour drive to Arkansas in two vans. At the time, Arkansas was experiencing a rare winter storm, with low temperatures and high winds, according to First State veterinary technician Jess Tyler.”
Went to pick up 30 dogs, brought back 85
Said Tyler, “These dogs were all in outside kennels and the only thing they had for protection was a tarp in this ice storm. They talked us into taking 85.”
Parana authorized the team to bring the dogs back to Camden.
Concluded McNaught, “They were unaware any of the dogs had parvo and they showed no symptoms, Tyler said.”
The typical onset time for parvovirus infections is three to five days. Had all of the dogs been promptly vaccinated against parvo on arrival in Camden, which would have been standard animal shelter practice, all of them might have survived.
“Delaware is a microcosm of what is to come nationwide”
“Delaware is a microcosm of what is to come nationwide,” exulted Best Friends Animal Society chief executive Julie Castle on July 17, 2020, claiming a big share of the achievement for Best Friends after Delaware animal shelters achieved a 90% “live release rate” for the second year in a row.
But as ANIMALS 24-7 has often pointed out, using “live release rate” as a measure of animal shelter success encourages shelters to refuse admissions of hard-to-rehome animals, especially dangerous dogs and cats who cannot easily be handled; to simultaneously inflate intake statistics by importing adoptable animals from outside the community, including in some cases by acquiring puppies bought directly from puppy mills by unscrupulous “rescues” operating as brokers; and to adopt out dangerous and unhealthy animals.
“The groundwork for getting to no-kill started more than a decade ago,” Castle recalled. “In 2009, the Delaware SPCA opened the Jane R. Haggard Spay/Neuter Clinic — the first of its kind in Delaware — to provide high-quality, affordable spay/neuter services to the public and local animal rescue groups.”
“When the Brandywine Valley SPCA took over all animal control duties statewide in 2016,” Castle continued, the organization “also began offering low-cost veterinary clinics so that families didn’t have to give up their pets simply because they couldn’t afford their medical care.”
Dismantled protection from pit bulls
So far, so good. But the public discontent with Delaware animal control service that led to the Brandywine Valley SPCA takeover of animal control duties statewide included the failure of the previous animal control contractors to effectively respond to increasingly frequent pit bull attacks, the most serious of which, on May 7, 2014, killed four-year-old Kasii Haith, of Camden.
Instead of reinforcing animal control legislation to better protect the public, and other animals, from pit bulls, the Brandywine Valley SPCA and the Delaware Humane Association, with heavy support from the Best Friends Animal Society, in June 2017 won passage of a law which completely dismantled the ability of communities to exclude pit bulls before they actually commit mayhem.
There have been no further human fatalities in Delaware from attacks by dogs of any breed, but disfiguring pit bull attacks have continued apace, along with pit bull attacks on other pets and livestock, and shootings of pit bulls, both by police and by civilians, to stop attacks.
Shelter disease outbreaks are deadly too
Disease outbreaks at shelters trying to “save them all,” as the Best Friends Animal Society motto prescribes, have the potential to kill far more animals than the 2019 Delaware shelter euthanasia toll of 626, especially if a diseased animal is rehomed into contact with the public.
The worst shelter disease outbreak on record came at the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas in February 2007.
Originally handling only Las Vegas animals, the Lied Animal Shelter opened in February 2001. The Lied management almost immediately came under intensive criticism for purportedly killing incoming animals too quickly, after an incident in which a child’s dog was euthanized by accident. The shelter was expanded two years later to also hold animals impounded from Clark County, surrounding Las Vegas.
Las Vegas outbreak killed 1,000 animals
A decade later the shelter tried to go no-kill––prematurely. Outside personnel were eventually brought in to help euthanize more than 1,000 of the 1,800 animals in custody.
About 150 of the animals were ill, and 850 were believed to have been exposed to both parvovirus and distemper among the holding kennels for incoming dogs, and panleukopenia among the incoming cats, along with a bacterial infection never previously found in shelters that caused a fatal hemorrhagic pneumonia.
Fortunately none of the diseases afflicting the Lied Animal Shelter did “go public.”
Similar episodes have occurred around the U.S. and Canada since then, but with fewer casualties, chiefly because the afflicted shelters have served much smaller communities, therefore taking in fewer animals.