In response to an outbreak of multi-drug resistant Campylobacter infections associated with the purchase of puppies from pet stores, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued a temporary, four-month ban on the sale of all animals by pet stores throughout the Commonwealth.
The CDC concluded that the outbreak is being caused by puppies sold by pet stores based on the finding that 88% of the case patients reported contact with a puppy and 71% of these reported contact with a puppy from a pet store.
The CDC conclusion is as follows: "Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicate that contact with
puppies, especially those at pet stores, is the likely source of this
Nevertheless, the CDC has warned that: "No single strain of puppy has been identified that explains all cases of this outbreak. Therefore, the CDC recommends that anyone concerned about the illness avoid exposure to all animals."
The CDC has termed the outbreak PAAGI - which stands for Puppy, or Animal-Associated Gastrointestinal Illness.
Although the CDC has concluded that puppies purchased at pet stores are the likely cause of the illness, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued an emergency order that immediately banned the sale or transfer of all animals. This includes the sale of all animals from Massachusetts pet stores as well as online sales of animals. In addition to not being able to sell animals, all pet stores had to clear their shelves of all inventory.
Already, the ban has resulted in the closure of hundreds of pet stores in the state. Numerous store owners have explained that they spent tens of thousands of dollars on the inventory in their stores and having to clear this inventory and close their stores, even temporarily, is an economic impact that they simply cannot withstand. Some of the store owners had literally put their life savings into their small businesses, which has now all gone for naught.
Asked why the state banned the sale of all animals, when the CDC concluded that the outbreak was linked to puppies, a spokesperson from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health stated: "Twelve percent of patients reported exclusively having contact with animals other than puppies. It was therefore necessary to ban the sale of all animals, not just puppies. Until we know the exact cause of the outbreak, people should refrain from contact with all animals." When asked why it was necessary to force hundreds of small businesses to shut down when the evidence clearly points to puppies alone as the cause of the illness, the spokesperson said: "The health of our children has to take precedence over economic interests."
Several other states have followed the lead set by Massachusetts, except that instead of banning the sale of all animals, they have only banned the sale of cute animals. For example, a Montana official noted that: "Kids are attracted to animals because they are cute. Pet stores are clearly targeting youth by marketing cute animals. Cute animal ownership by youth has reached epidemic proportions and there is evidence that many youth have become addicted to their pets. It is now clear that owning a pet can cause severe illness or even death due to infection with multi-drug resistant bacteria."
Health officials in Washington noted that "there is no such thing as a safe pet. Until the FDA has approved pets for sale, consumers should refrain from buying these animals."
New York State declared a public health emergency because of the outbreak, but chose to ban only cute animals, not all animals. A Boston University animal researcher questioned this decision, saying that: "There is no evidence that this outbreak is only associated with the sale of cute animals. Thus, there is no public health justification for banning the sale of only cute animals. State health officials are simply taking advantage of this outbreak in order to get cute animals off the market."
Early reports indicate that many families are now purchasing pets off the black market instead of at stores which are regulated. The animals sold on the black market are not tested for diseases, nor is it clear whether they have received the proper immunizations. As a result, families that buy pets off the black market are putting themselves at great risk. According to pet store owners in Washington State: "A new black market has emerged for cute pets. No one wants to purchase the non-cute breeds. We have lost 90% of our sales."
In defending the ban, Washington health officials argued that anyone who wants a pet can simply switch over to a non-cute variety. A health department spokesperson stated: "We are not depriving people who want pets to have them. They can just switch over from the cute pets to the non-cute ones. Cute pets are only marketed to kids anyway. Adults who want pets should just buy the non-cute ones."
A new study published earlier this week has linked the ownership of puppies to depression. The study found that people who experience sadness or depression are more likely to own a puppy. The investigators concluded that: "This is strong evidence that buying a puppy can lead to depression. Puppies have not been found by the FDA to be safe and effective."
Critics of the study pointed out that it is very possible that people who are feeling sad or depressed buy a puppy specifically to cheer them up. Despite this possibility of reverse causation and a statement in the fine print of the paper stating that "Because of the cross-sectional nature of this study, causation cannot be proven," the investigators issued a press release with the headline: "New Study Demonstrates that Buying a Puppy Can Lead to Severe Depression."
Although the FDA has had jurisdiction over the sale of animals for the past 10 years, the only regulations it has promulgated involve safety standards for puppies. Any store that wants to continue to sell puppies must submit a "Pre-Market Puppy Application," or PMPA, by May 2020 or it must take its puppies off the market. However, stores that sell pit bulls, boa constrictors, and alligators can continue to sell these more dangerous animals without submitting a single page of paperwork to the FDA.
(Thanks to Michael S. Cox for the tip.)