Nassau authorities investigating the interstate sale of sick or diseased animals on Long Island seized nine puppies from a Missouri animal transporting service Wednesday during delivery to a Hicksville pet store, officials said.
The puppies were put in isolation and all tested positive for at least one contagious disease, with some showing signs of airway infections and others with evidence of pneumonia, according to officials with the Nassau SPCA, who are involved in the investigation along with the Nassau County district attorney's office's animal crimes unit.
Officials with the Hicksville pet store said they refused delivery because the puppies were ill, said Nassau SPCA board president Gary Rogers.
Rogers said lab tests will determine whether the dogs suffered from what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday was an "outbreak of multi-drug resistant Campylobacter infections" linked to pet stores and puppy mills. The infections have so far sickened at least 30 people in 13 states who have come into contact with infected puppies.
Though there have been no reported deaths, the CDC said in a statement Wednesday that four people have been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak.
A single common supplier has not been identified, the CDC said, but agency officials advised anyone getting a puppy or dog to "take it to a veterinarian for a health check-up."
The Campylobacter bacteria can be spread through infected feces, the CDC said, as well as through contaminated food or water.
Rogers said the recent outbreak was not the reason for the Long Island investigation. He said intelligence gathered by investigators indicated puppies and kittens had been brought to Long Island pet stores by out-of-state suppliers, including the one stopped Wednesday during an attempted delivery outside the Hicksville pet store.
The supplier, who Rogers identified as Puppy Travelers of Neosho, Missouri, routinely brought a cargo van of puppies, and sometimes kittens, to Nassau and Suffolk, he said. Investigators were concerned because transport conditions involved sick or diseased animals, Rogers said.
Legal action against the company is being considered but the investigation is ongoing, he said.
Puppy Travelers' Huntington attorney Michael Alber cautioned against a rush to judgement.
“In the industry, they are recognized as the gold standard,” Alber said of his client, adding that the company is in compliance with state and federal laws. “Our main concern is that the animals are well cared for.”
According to its website, Puppy Travelers has animal "pickup locations" in Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. The company transports puppies and kittens throughout the country, including along a route that stops in New York, the website said.
"We developed intelligence that this company goes around every Wednesday to pet shops on Long Island," Rogers said. "They bring in puppies and cats, basically every Wednesday, and have up to 100 animals [in their cargo van] at a time."
After receiving a report of a "severely underweight" dog delivered to a pet store in Nassau, Rogers said investigators set up surveillance on pet stores in Massapequa and Hicksville and found Puppy Travelers making deliveries in the cargo van, all in cages. The SPCA is warning that the other animals should be assumed to have been exposed to the infectious diseases as well.
Rogers said the nine seized puppies include a golden retriever, a Labrador retriever and Maltese breeds. If Puppy Travelers does not take legal action in an attempt to retain ownership after five days, Rogers said, the puppies will be placed for adoption.