SCARBOROUGH – For the second time in five months, the state has ordered the halt of puppy sales at a Scarborough pet store and placed all dogs under quarantine due to the presence of parvovirus, a highly infectious and potentially deadly canine disease.

John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation, said Monday morning an investigation was under way following several media calls, prompted by social media postings about a new parvo case at the Little Paws pet shop at 456 Payne Road. Later that afternoon he said a state veterinarian had since confirmed the incident, leading to the state action.

“Standard protocol calls for us to have a quarantine for two weeks so that we can ensure that the other animals there are healthy,” said Bott. “The other puppies have to be tested. We have to find out their health status and where they came from.”

Tina Bark of Westbrook purchased the latest sick dog on July 22.

A sign at the store Monday said it was closed “due to unfortunate circumstances.” Barbara Cross, who has run the store since June 2012, could not be reached for comment.

Puppy sales were halted at the store for nearly a month in February after a Siberian husky it sold died of parvovirus. Although Little Paws can now stay open for business, as it did during the February quarantine, it is not allowed to bring in any new dogs and none of its current stock can leave the shop except to see a veterinarian.

Meanwhile, activist group Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills, which publicized the latest parvo case on its Facebook page, plans to stage a protest outside the store on Saturday, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

“They told us they would not use these Midwest puppy mills, but they’re doing it anyway,” said Lynne Fracassi of Gorham, who founded the group two years ago with the goal of ending the sale of dogs and kittens in pet stores across Maine.

“This is out of control,” she said. “It’s very scary for the public and people who love dogs because this is so contagious.”

In addition to the husky pup, which died Feb. 1, less than a week after Little Paws sold it, a dachshund pup died Jan. 19, two days after it was sold. Fracassi claims the dachshund also had parvo, although Cross has said the cause of death was uncertain. The pup’s body was taken back by the store and destroyed without a state necropsy.

Bark said Little Paws also tried to get her dog back.

“She’s in an isolation room at the emergency animal hospital on an I.V., not able to eat or drink on her own,” said Bark on Monday. “The store said that didn’t mean she had the parvo virus, that she could just by hypoglycemic. They asked us to take her out of the hospital and leave her with them to care for.”

That, said Bark, isn’t going to happen.

“They completely lied to us,” she said. “When we first got her we were told that she came from a reputable breeder here in Maine. It was only after I went back and told a clerk we needed the breeder’s name for the vet that we were told she came from Missouri.”

Bark says the 9-week-old ori-pei pup – a mix of shar-pei and pug – which she named Sophie, began to throw up within four days of arriving at her new home.

Parvovirus takes three to 14 days to incubate before an animal has symptoms. Maine mandates a five-day quarantine period from the time a dog enters Maine before it can be sold. After the husky death in February, Cross said she intended to up that to 10 days at her store.

According to Bark, the vet she took Sophie to did not test for parvovirus, because she did not have diarrhea, a usual symptom. Prescribed anti-nausea medications, Sophie seemed to perk up at first. Then, the next day, came the diarrhea and a weekend trip to the emergency hospital.

“They say there’s no guarantees,” said Bark, her voice shaking with emotion over the telephone. “There are no antibiotics to kill this virus, it really all up to her immune system as to whether she’ll pull through or won’t.

“I’ve been a complete wreck,” said Bark. “She’s the cutest little thing. It only takes a few moments for her to get a hold of your heart. To find out she may die, it’s really upsetting.”

Now facing more than $7,000 in veterinary bills for Sophie’s care, Bark says she approached Little Paws for help, but says the store would only offer to refund half of the original $1,300 purchase price.

“I just want to get the word out about the continued problems at this store,” said Bark, of her subsequent social media campaign. “It’s clearly a continuing issue. At this point, I really feel like the place needs to be closed.”

Bark says she will be at Saturday’s protest, the latest of a string Fracassi has staged outside the store over the past year.

In a July 2012 interview, Cross, a longtime postal employee to that time, acknowledged not having previous experience running a pet store. However, she said she was learning on the fly and trying her best to weed out what she called the “bad breeders” used by the previous owner of her shop.

By February, following the husky death, she said the ongoing protests, which included an attempt to talk the town into outlawing the same of puppies in pet stores, had begun to tear her down.

“I’m very sorry that this unfortunate circumstance happened,” she said at the time. “It’s really hard. I’ve never been through anything like this before. The protestors have been absolutely horrendous. I don’t need their lies and harassment it’s already a bad and unfortunate situation as it is.”

Jamie Nonni of Falmouth, who financed purchase of Little Paws for then-girlfriend Cross, said Tuesday the business is listed for sale with Maine Business Brokers of Portland.

Although nearly 500 healthy dogs have been sold by Cross over the past year, Nonni said the hope is to change the business model, turning the store into Maine’s first retail adoption center for dogs.

“We are looking for a buyer who has some experience dealing with rescue groups,” he said.


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