Quarantined horses return to Canada

Kylie McLean, a Canadian buyer and seller of horses, feeds her horse Chocolate in San Tan Valley, Arizona. (Photo by: Sterling Blum/ Arizona Sonora News)
Kylie McLean, a Canadian buyer and seller of horses, feeds her horse Chocolate in San Tan Valley, Arizona. (Photo by: Sterling Blum/ Arizona Sonora News)

Some Canadians making a run for the border back home ended up having to leave their horses in Arizona.

During the past year, some horses in the state have been quarantined for Vesicular Stomatitis Virus, according to the Arizona Department of Agriculture. That meant Canada wouldn’t let any horse back into its borders from Arizona.

“Countries won’t allow you to come in period,” said Perry Durham, Arizona Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian. “We’ve been getting a lot of disgruntled Canadians calling because they can’t go home right now (with their horses).”

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported a total of 435 premises with VSV-positive animals from 2014 until the beginning of 2015 in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Nebraska.

By October, all VSV cases in Texas were released, by December Nebraska horses were released, and by January Colorado animals were freed, leaving quarantines in Arizona. In January, two horses in Santa Cruz County were confirmed to have VSV. The last quarantine in Arizona was lifted March 13. Arizona is now free from VSV quarantine.

“Canada will not allow any of their folks to return, essentially until the quarantine is lifted and they determine that it’s free and they usually wait three weeks after that,” Durham said. Mexico has restrictions too. According to the USDA APHIS, the horse must be cleared with a U.S. Origin Health Certificate and found free of VSV before entering into Mexico.

The last outbreak in Arizona was in 2010, and was the only state in the country to have quarantines that year. Two properties were quarantined in Cochise County near Sierra Vista, the USDA reported.

Kirby Penttila, a veterinarian from Cochrane, Canada, bought a barrel racing quarter horse from a seller in Casa Grande, but little did she know the quarantine wouldn’t allow her to take her horse, Sadie, back home.

“I bought her from a girl down in Arizona at the end of January,” she said. Penttila said she knew the quarantine was in place just before she left and had already booked the flight to Arizona to go look at the horse. “I had my fingers crossed that maybe the restrictions would lift before we had to come back, but no luck,” Penttila said.

VSV infects the horse’s nose, lips, eyes, ears and tongue with sores, oozes and scabs, said Durham. “The horses I’ve dealt with don’t really seem to be bothered by it much and that’s a real good thing. They look bad, but don’t really seem to care,” he said.

McLean takes a fly mask off a quarter horse bright and early in the morning. (Photo by: Sterling Blum/Arizona Sonora News)
McLean takes a fly mask off a quarter horse bright and early in the morning.
(Photo by: Sterling Blum/Arizona Sonora News)

A reason Arizona took the precaution of placing quarantines in Santa Cruz County is because the virus could have affected Arizona’s economy and horses throughout the state, said Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

Durham said the Scottsdale Arabian Show in 2011, for example, accounted for about $53 million of economic impact.

“We try very hard to make sure that things like this disease don’t affect (Arizona statewide) because that could make a really bad year for (Arizona),” Durham said.

One of the reasons that VSV can spread so quickly is because of flies, Oxley said. “But it’s not fly season right now,” she said. “It was kind of odd for us to even get it, and showed up because the normal vector for the disease isn’t around.”

Penttila transported Sadie to Montana so the quarter horse could be quarantined and tested there for 21 days in order for the USDA to sign her health papers and allow her into Canada.

Owners could take their horses out of Arizona to other states, but regulations in other states make the horses stay in a temporary quarantine for 21 days, or have to pass a blood test for a certain number of days, until they are cleared to go back to Canada, Oxley said.

“Between all the different veterinary papers and transports, it probably cost me almost a thousand more than it would have if that restriction hadn’t been in place,” Penttila said. Originally, it would have cost her $500 to transport her horse back to Canada, she said.

Now Penttila will have to drive down from Canada to Montana to get her Sadie back. “It’s unfortunate of course,” she said.” But that’s a disease that Canada doesn’t have.”

“On one hand it’s somewhat important that they have those restrictions in place to prevent that disease making its way into Canada, but there might be some altered regulations or improvements that they could make with their regulations to make it a little bit more easier for people to get back and forth,” Penttila said. “Especially when there is a low number of cases like that and they’ve got it fairly well quarantined.”

Sterling Blum is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at sterlingblum@email.arizona.edu. 

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