More incidents of a potentially deadly canine influenza have been reported in Brooklyn. Vinegar Hill Veterinary Group has treated 15 confirmed cases of canine influenza; Joanna Guandolo, the owner of Waggin’ Tails BKLYN confirmed that one of the dogs that she walks has had the flu; and Happy Dogs at McCarren Park, a dog daycare and boarding facility, confirmed that it had two dogs who have had the flu.
We have also received unconfirmed reports that dogs boarded at Buddy’s Dog Den, a boarding facility that is half a mile away from Happy Dogs, may have been exposed to the flu. Buddy’s Dog Den has not responded to multiple requests for comment. We will update this post if we receive any new information.
There is no centralized database of the number of dogs with the flu, and it is likely that the number of cases is underreported, in part because the test costs $300, and it takes several days for the results to come back. Many owners prefer to start treatment immediately, even if the flu virus has not been confirmed. At Blue Pearl Emergency Pet Hospital, 30 dogs exhibiting symptoms went untested.
Some dog owners are also reluctant to disclose if their dog has the flu, out of fear they could be blacklisted from their preferred boarding facilities and dog walkers. Ien Cheng, the owner of Happy Dogs, said his members are “freaking out about being outed. Parents do not want to be known in the community” as having a dog with the flu.
Dog care businesses are also reluctant to talk about the flu, since it is so contagious. It can be very difficult to prevent the spread of the disease if someone who works with multiple dogs comes in contact with a sick dog. The flu can be carried on human hands for up to 12 hours, and on clothes for up to 24 hours.
Guandolo said that after she discovered that one of her clients has a dog with the flu, she began “dousing [herself] with Lysol after I see each dog.” She has also had to clean her car and her house extensively. And although she knows the best way to minimize risk is to wear protective clothing and dispose of it after every dog walk, she decided this wasn't feasible. She walks dogs “everywhere from Williamsburg to Windsor Terrace” and many neighborhoods in between.
On May 7th, Dr. Natasa Loose from The Neighborhood Vet in Bushwick posted on Instagram about the spread of a contagious respiratory disease. "Alert!!!!! Two clients alone today have needed transfer to the emergency hospital for coughing, lethargy and fever," she wrote. "One doggy day Care has had to shut down temporarily while decontaminating the facility"
On the same day as Loose's Instagram alert, Cheng said a Happy Dogs client contacted the service to say their dog had the flu. The dog in question was last at Happy Dogs on April 17th, and Cheng said he called every other client whose dog was there the same day and found that no other dog had exhibited flu symptoms. Since 3 weeks had passed from the sick dog’s visit to Happy Dogs, Cheng believes the dog was infected elsewhere. Happy Dogs sent an email to their members explaining the situation and encouraging them to vaccinate their dogs.
Happy Dogs co-owner Jennifer Cheng sent an email to clients on Tuesday, writing that multiple vets have told her that dogs that contracted the flu had been to Buddy's Dog Den recently, and that this was the dog daycare that had been closed for a day for decontamination. She urged clients to "not bring your dog to Happy Dogs if either (1) your dog has been to Buddy’s in the last 4 weeks or (2) your dog has regular interaction with a dog that has been to Buddy’s in the last 4 weeks. This request will be in effect until we know more about what is going on with the spread of canine flu."
Buddy's, however, strongly disputes Cheng's claim. In an email sent Wednesday, they informed clients, “We have learned that another local facility (Happy Dogs) has sent out a blatantly misrepresented and misdirected email communication to their community making mention of Buddy’s Dog Den. Happy Dogs appears to be using this recent outbreak of canine flu as a ploy to promote themselves, while disparaging Buddy’s Dog Den — instead of building a bridge across the community during this difficult time for many pet owners who’s [sic] dogs may be suffering from illness.”
Ien Cheng said that he was frustrated by this email, saying “If they wanted to build bridges, they should have confirmed why they were closing [for decontamination].”
Late last night, Jennifer Cheng emailed all the Happy Dogs members to say two dogs from Happy Dogs had contracted the flu that very day. Both dogs had also recently been to Buddy’s. There is no way of knowing exactly where these dogs actually contracted the flu, since it is highly contagious, but any area with a high number of dogs put them at risk.
Vets are highly recommending that that dog owners keep their dogs away from places where dogs congregate, for the time being, and to vaccinate their dogs for the flu. More information can be found at the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s page on Canine Influenza.