Weather Updates

Distemper traced to area pet shops

Distemper facts

The Humane Society of the United States offers these precautions regarding distemper:

• Poor veterinary care standards at puppy mills that sell to pet stores may be to blame for distemper outbreaks traced to stores.

• In December 2010, the Associated Press reported that approximately 1,200 dogs at a puppy mill in Kansas were euthanized by state authorities after puppies that had been shipped from the facility to pet stores in Wyoming tested positive for distemper.

• The Humane Society urges people who want to get a puppy to consider adopting from a shelter or rescue group first. If deciding to buy from a breeder, potential buyers should always visit the breeder in person to see that the dogs are treated humanely and ensure the puppies and their parents are living in spacious, clean areas.

For more information, see

Updated: March 1, 2012 8:08AM

The owner of a Naperville pet store chain said he has taken steps to contain the contagion of distemper after at least two puppies he sold developed the potentially fatal virus, and one of them died.

The two cases were traced to Happiness Is Pets stores in Naperville and Downers Grove.

Ronald Berning, who owns both stores, said the illnesses were “an extremely isolated incident.” He said the company has received reports of distemper that amount to about 1 percent of the puppy sales in its five stores over the past 60 days.

Dakota the dachsund was among that 1 percent, and she was the lucky survivor of the two cases identified.

When Aurora resident Bryan Phillips and his girlfriend spotted the 10-week-old dog at the Naperville pet store in early December, she appeared docile, as puppies go, Phillips said. As they played with her in an area designated for pets and their potential owners, she trembled a little.

“We didn’t think too much about it, because it’s kind of cold in there,” Phillips said.

When they went back two weeks later to bring her home, Dakota seemed a little short of breath. Phillips said the store employees emphasized that Dakota should be checked out by a veterinarian they recommended, as soon as he could get her over there.

The local vet appeared unconcerned about the dog’s apparent discomfort.

“They said, ‘It’s no big deal,’ and gave her an antibiotic,” Phillips said.

But when he researched the medication and learned it isn’t often given to puppies, he took Dakota to a clinic near where he works in Addison for a second opinion. The diagnosis he heard was jarring.

The documentation showing Dakota was suffering from distemper brought a refund of the $855 he had paid for the dog, but she’s still not a normal puppy. Now 4 months old, she needs medication and struggles with the side effects of distemper. Her eyes still discharge because they can’t produce tears, and her gastrointestinal woes haven’t gone away.

“Poor dog’s been on four different antibiotics and five eye drops,” Phillips said. “There’s neurological issues, there’s gastrointestinal issues, there’s deformity issues that could affect her paw.”

Berning said he doesn’t think the outbreak originated in either of his stores or the breeders who supply them.

“We could not confirm the origin of the virus. However, we believe the likely source was a potential customer’s own dog,” he wrote said. “Therefore, as a protective measure of the puppies in our store and our customer’s dogs, we have immediately ceased the option of allowing customers to bring in their own dog to ‘meet’ with a puppy prior to purchasing.”

Kathleen Summers thinks it is more likely the illness came from a puppy mill — the term given to a kennel where dogs are bred in unhealthy conditions.

“Of all the other dogs that these puppies are exposed to, they’re exposed mainly to other puppies in the puppy mill and to other dogs in the store,” said Summers, director of outreach and research for the Humane Society of the United States’ Puppy Mills campaign.

Symptoms of distemper can include fever, poor appetite, eye and nasal discharge, respiratory distress and diarrhea. When the virus is traced to a seller of dogs, the Humane Society takes notice.

“Distemper is just one of the few diseases that are common in puppies,” Summers said. “It’s been more uncommon recently, because it’s relatively easy to prevent with proper sanitation and vaccinations.”

Berning said he is confident the virus no longer endangers the puppies for sale at his store.

“At this time, both we and our veterinarians strongly believe that no puppies in the store are at any risk of infection,” he said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.