When Santa Clarita resident Gina Moradzadeh adopted Penny, a pup rescued from the streets of Mexico, she never expected that what appeared to be a healthy dog would be anything but.
Though Moradzadeh was told the dog had been found pregnant on the streets of Mexico, Penny was reportedly otherwise “completely healthy.”
However, it didn’t take long after adopting Penny for Moradzadeh to realize the dog was in need of medical attention, and soon, things began to spiral, with Penny eventually being diagnosed with a transmissible venereal tumor, or TVT, a cancer rarely found in the U.S.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, dogs entering the U.S. for resale and adoption have to be at least 6 months old, in good health, and accompanied by a rabies vaccination certificate and an international health certificate that shows they are vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza virus infection, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
However, with 1.245 million dogs imported into the U.S. each year, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, Penny isn’t the only one who has slipped through the cracks, and many enter with invalid or fraudulent health certificates.
Dr. Kathy Peters, a local veterinarian, said she, too, has noticed an increase in pets that’d reportedly been imported from outside the U.S. without properly vetted health certificates.
“It’s not only a danger to that animal, but any other animal it comes in contact with,” Peters said. “These viruses or bacteria can be transmissible to other dogs, but moreover, there’s a risk that they could be passed to people or other animal species.”
In fact, as recently as June, the CDC announced it’d be suspending the importation of dogs to the U.S. from more than 100 countries that were deemed high-risk for rabies.
And though she’d just adopted her, Moradzadeh remains committed to helping Penny, now simply hoping Penny’s story can help to ensure the same thing won’t happen to other animal adopters.
The Moradzadehs’ fight for Penny
After her 13-year-old dachshund-chihuahua mix, Lucy, died, Moradzadeh was devastated.
“She was my kid — I’d had her since I was in my early 20s,” she said.
So, with an empty home for the first time and a feeling that something was missing, it wasn’t long before Moradzadeh and her husband decided to rescue another dog. And it was at a local rescue that they found Penny, which was “literally love at first sight,” Moradzadeh said.
However, looking back on the situation, the Moradzadehs realize how naive they were while adopting Penny in February.
“They did tell us she wasn’t fixed and that she had no rabies vaccination, which I’ve since learned is totally not OK,” Moradzadeh added.
The next day, when Penny rolled over to get her belly scratched, Moradzadeh noticed one of her mammary glands was swollen to the size of a golf ball.
It was from that first vet visit that the Moradzadehs began to realize the severity of Penny’s health issues, first with the mammary gland, then when Penny continued to bleed after being spayed.
In June, after eight vet visits — and a suggestion from a vet on a social media post Moradzadeh made of Penny’s symptoms — Penny was diagnosed with TVT and would need several rounds of chemotherapy.
“I didn’t know that TVT was even a thing or that dogs from Mexico carried a greater risk,” Moradzadeh said, adding that Penny’s vet had only seen one other case in her career.
With vets backed up, the process to get Penny treatment has been slow, and she received her third round of chemo Wednesday.
“My husband and I joke that this is not the year of the dog for us, with losing Lucy and everything that’s come about since,” Moradzadeh said.
Penny’s long road to both diagnosis and treatment has taken a toll on the Moradzadehs, both financially and emotionally, and they now hope to help ensure this doesn’t blindside any other pet parents.
“She’s just a love bug, where there’s nothing we’re not going to do, but it’s just been a nightmare,” she added. “I don’t think people here in Southern California understand that these (imported) dogs come with their own separate set of risks. … No one ever warned us that they can carry diseases that you don’t see in the states.”
Senate introduces Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2021
Earlier this month, the Senate Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2021 was introduced as a companion to House Resolution 4239, both of which work toward ensuring all dogs imported into the U.S. meet minimum health standards.
Of the bills’ supporters is the American Kennel Club, which said in a prepared statement that the legislation would bring the U.S. in line with most other countries, expanding the already existing program with improved oversight measures.
The legislation would not ban imports, but instead would require the submission of a valid health certificate from a recognized veterinary authority, be permanently identified and checked upon entry.
Moradzadeh hopes the bill will help, as she too doesn’t want to stop rescues from saving these dogs, but rather hopes adopters are educated on the risks and health conditions of their prospective pets.