James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@jeffersonpost.com
September 12, 2012
Local dog lovers can breathe a sigh of relief as distemper cases have decreased in Ashe County, allowing animal control to put more stray dogs up for adoption.
“We discovered an increase in distemper a few months ago,” said Joe Testerman, the director of animal control in Ashe County. He went on to say the increase was just “a little hot spot” that has slacked off in the past two months.
Dr. Lee Beckworth, DVM at Ashe Animal Clinic, agreed with Testerman, say he also noticed a slight increase in distemper cases a few months ago and it has gone down since then.
Beckworth said the temporary increase of distemper was caused by two factors.
The first factor is a fluctuation in wild populations that carry the disease; animals like raccoons and coyotes. Testerman said animal control cannot confirm an increase in the coyote population.
The second factor is that pets are not receiving their proper vaccinations. Testerman said this was actually the main problem.
While the distemper outbreak was at its peak, the Ashe County Animal Control took precautions to insure the disease wouldn’t spread. Testerman said when animal control took in a stray dog that didn’t have any records of vaccinations, they had to euthanized the animal. Testerman said animal control would risk a diseased animal finding its way into a families home through the adoption process.
However, now that the distemper outbreak has subsided, animal control has changed its policy. Strays are now put up for adoption even without vaccination records, said Testerman.
According to Testerman, North Carolina state law requires a 72 hour reprieve for strays that are picked up by animal control. After 72 hours, they can either be put up for adoption or euthanized.
During that 72 hour period, the stray will be monitored for symptoms of diseases. If the stray shows symptoms for distemper or other diseases, they will be euthanized. In special cases, like if the animal is suffering due to an injury, the animal may be euthanized automatically as well.
Testerman said animal control simply doesn’t have enough financial support to properly care for every stray they pick up.
Laurie Vierheller, executive director of the Watauga Humane Society, says the Watauga Humane Society is able to better care for stray animals because of their volunteers and their funding.
In Watauga, all stray animals are taken in, even if they are in extremely poor health. All of the strays are given shots if needed and nursed back to health.
The priority for Watauga’s humane society is to ensure the animals are adopted. Animals are only euthanized if the Watauga Humane Society runs out of room in their shelter. If that happens, they would only euthanize the most aggressive/least adoptable animals.
According to Vierheller, Watauga has not had a problem with Distemper, so they did not need to take similar precautions.