Despite what foster organization Hearts of the North claim, many in the pet community say dogs brought by the organization have heartworm —and it's not as benign as advertised.
"We fostered, in total, three dogs," said Andy Penner, who used to volunteer for the group. "All three had heartworm."
"I was educated that heartworm is not transferable to other dogs."
Endemic to United States
The worm is a non-endemic parasitic roundworm that causes long-term health effects.
Hearts of the North saves dogs on death row in the United States, where the worm originates from, by finding Maritime homes for them.
Volunteers say the amount of dog lives saved using their method is in the thousands.
Earlier this week the organization came under fire after two cases of dog bites came to light. In one a woman's lip was bitten, and in the second another dog was attacked.
The organization posted on Facebook Dec. 28 it was pausing operations to reflect on the recent allegations.
On Friday, even more cases surrounding attacks from these dogs came to light, as well as alleged discrepancies in paperwork accompanying dogs crossing the border.
"I'm just so upset because we've now had to put down dogs," Melissa Britton, a spokesperson for Hearts of North Friday.
The worm, which burrows into the dog's heart, greatly reducing its strength, is spread through feces and mosquitos.
While dogs are the primary carriers, coyotes and other animals can also have the disease.
On their website the organization says many of their dogs have the disease but says it isn't contagious.
"It is impossible for dogs in Canada to get it," the website said. "Heartworm is NOT contagious."
The website cites the New Brunswick climate as the reason why. It claims temperatures are not hot enough or long enough for the mosquitos.
HOTN says unlikely
Britton recognizes that's not completely true and it is plausible for an infection to spread in New Brunswick, but she said it's unlikely and that Hearts of the North are not the only ones that transport heartworm positive dogs.
"If a heartworm positive dog has never been treated," Britton said, "it is entirely possible that a mosquito could bite that dog and transfer those eggs."
But, she said it has to be a specific type of mosquito: a female mosquito that lays near dormant water.
"It is possible, but it's highly unlikely that it would create any sort of epidemic because we don't have a massive population of the type of mosquitos that they have there," she said.
Vet experts disagree
But, according to two animal experts, that simply isn't true.
Sheila McGowan, a veterinarian from Hampton, and Mandy Hamilton, a veterinarian technician in Florenceville, said there have already been cases of New Brunswick dogs, that have never left the province, contracting heartworm.
"That is evidence that we have a climate that supports the transfer of the disease," said Hamilton, who started a petition to stop the transfer of dogs with the parasite across the border. "There's some misinformation being spread around."
"Maine is endemic for heartworm," McGowan said.
Hamilton said after a mosquito bites a heartworm positive dog, it only takes two weeks to incubate, meaning the Canadian summer gives plenty of time for the worm to spread.
There are two ways to treat the parasite, the fast and the slow treatment.
The fast treatment kills the worms all at once, but is both dangerous and expensive.
McGowan said the slow treatment, the treatment used primarily by Hearts of the North, is not a viable method for medical professionals.
"(It's) just not recommended."
McGowan doesn't think it's impossible to fix now, but says there's a worry the worm will become endemic to the region, just like in the southern United States.
Previously, volunteers told CBC reporters these dogs are assessed in the U.S. by veterinarians and experienced handlers and staff and considered adoptable.
But Rachel LeBlanc from Moncton said when her friend received her dog, the organization mislabelled the age. They told her it was 10 months old instead of three years old and didn't have heartworm. LeBlanc now owns the dog.
She later bought the slower medicine, paying for it out of pocket, but is concerned her dog was untreated when she received it and the disease could have spread.
"They misinformed my friend," she said.