There have been at least 30 reported cases of Campylobacter jejuni infections — something that usually manifests as food poisoning — across 13 states over the course of the last year. While no one has died from it, four people have been hospitalized and the illness has proven itself to be resistant to the typical antibiotics that would treat it. These bacterial infections are not uncommon. Typically, they happen in an isolated fashion and are the result of eating raw or under-cooked poultry. But these cases have a different culprit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: puppies.
According to the government agency, 88% of people interviewed about their experiences with the illness reported that they came in contact with a puppy prior to contracting the infection. At least a dozen of the cases have been linked to Petland, a nationwide chain of pet stores that has about 80 locations across the United States. Many of the stores have puppies available for adoption. At least five of the people who experienced bacteria infection were Petland employees.
This isn't the first time that a Campylobacter jejuni outbreak has hit the U.S., nor it is the first time that puppies have been identified as the source of its spread. Between 2016 and 2018, there were at least 100 cases of infections that were linked to pet store puppies, according to the CDC. Like the current ongoing outbreak, many of those cases were tied to Petland.
"Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that contact with puppies sold through Petland stores were a likely source of this outbreak," the government agency concluded in 2018, when the initial outbreak was determined to have ended. Following the previous outbreak, Petland was the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed by the Animal Defense Fund that claimed the company defrauded customers by providing a "Health Warranty" on dogs that it allegedly knew were prone to illnesses and other health conditions.
Petland has drawn a considerable amount of criticism over the last decade for its practices, including reportedly selling puppies sourced from puppy mills — unlicensed and unregistered breeders who often raise dogs in unhealthy and inhumane conditions. Puppy mills primarily breed dogs at high volumes in order to maximize profit, often ignoring the illnesses that many of the dogs experience and failing to perform basic health checks and socialization exercises that a puppy should undergo. A 2008 investigation conducted by the Humane Society found that many of the thousands of dogs sold at Petland locations were sourced from puppy mills that kept dogs in undersized cages, deprived them of basic care and necessities and forced them to live in their own filth.
Petland now claims that it only purchases puppies from certified breeders that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and have been examined by two or three veterinarians before being put up for sale. There is a dedicated page on the company's website explaining that "commercial breeders are not puppy mills." However, a 2018 report from the Humane Society claimed that some puppies sold to Petland are still sourced from puppy mills and breeders that utilize substandard conditions.
"Petland takes the health and welfare of our employees, our customers and our pets very seriously. Since an earlier outbreak in 2016, in which no specific source of infection was identified, Petland has implemented all recommended protocols from federal and state animal and public health officials to prevent human and puppy illness," the company said in a statement published earlier this week.
If you're in the market for a puppy at the moment, proceed with caution — particularly if you're doing your shopping at pet stores. The CDC advises that you make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching a puppy to prevent the spread of any bacteria and to avoid allowing the pup to lick you — a task that is likely easier said than done. Additionally, when searching for a puppy, consider adopting one from your local shelter or humane society.
Otherwise, do your research and look for breeders who treat their puppies humanely and with the care they deserve. Ask to tour the facilities so you can see the conditions the dogs live in and make sure that the dog has received the proper veterinary care required to ensure their health. Avoid buying from pet stores if you can. While those puppies certainly deserve a good, happy home — especially considering that they likely came from less-than-ideal living conditions — it is still money in the pockets of puppy mills and unethical breeders. The best way to stop those practices is by not supporting them.