Some puppies rescued from Puerto Rico may be infected

Five puppies rescued from hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico and brought into Vermont and New Hampshire became sick after their arrival -- one of them diagnosed with a bacterial disease that can spread to humans.

Ten puppies were brought to New Hampshire and Vermont on Nov. 9, and half of them fell ill, one diagnosed with leptospirosis, according to New Hampshire health officials who said two of them were euthanized.

Leptospirosis can spread to humans and pets that have direct contact with an infected dog’s urine. Health officials did not report any cases in humans or pets.


The department is investigating how the dogs became ill and whether conditions in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria may have been a factor.

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“Infections are known to increase after flooding and natural disasters like hurricanes,” the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement issued Friday.

Aimee Goodwin, leader of the nonprofit that brought the puppies to New England, on Saturday told WMUR in Manchester that the puppies likely got sick from drinking water contaminated by rodents after the hurricane hit in September.

“It’s believed that the rodents are transporting the leptospirosis into private water supplies,” Goodwin told the station. “So these dogs likely got infected by drinking the water that was in their yard.”

Goodwin did not respond to requests for comment from the Globe.


On Nov. 12, three days after arriving in Vermont, the puppies were brought to an outdoor patio at a restaurant in Hanover, N.H., where people could consider adopting them. Households that received a dog have been advised of the potential for infection, health officials said.

Massachusetts has also been a refuge for rescue dogs from Puerto Rico but none have shown signs of the disease, according to a state spokeswoman.

“There are no reported cases of leptospirosis in dogs arriving from hurricane-impacted areas in Massachusetts at this time,” Sharon Torgerson, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, said in an e-mail Saturday.

In October, MSPCA-Angell in Boston brought seven puppies and one adult dog to Massachusetts from a shelter in Puerto Rico, said Michael Keiley, the organization’s director of adoption centers and programs.

The dogs all received leptospirosis vaccinations while at the organization’s Nevins Farm facility in Methuen, he said.


“They’re all doing well. They’re all healthy. No signs of illness . . . at all,” Keiley said.

Seven of the eight dogs have been adopted, going to homes in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, Keiley said.

But the nonprofit had to drop a plan to rescue 40 cats from Puerto Rico, after they showed signs of illness when examined at a New Jersey facility, he said.

When detected early, leptospirosis can be treated with medications, but dog owners should take precautions to keep their pets safe from the disease, one veterinarian said.

“We recommend all dogs be vaccinated against it,” said Dr. Michael Stone, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Public health officials in New Hampshire and Vermont have not said if the puppies brought to those states were vaccinated.

Attempts to reach officials for comment on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Jacob Carozza can be reached at