Less than three months after an outbreak of canine distemper forced Ashe County Animal Control to euthanize multiple animals and quarantine the animal shelter, a second outbreak of distemper has struck the Crumpler facility.
“We will not be adopting any unvaccinated animals out to the public,” said Director of Ashe County Animal Control Joe Testerman on Monday afternoon. “We have had several confirmed cases of distemper, and we have had to euthanize several dogs due to distemper-like symptoms.”
Distemper, a viral infection that attacks an animal’s respiratory system, can eventually spread to the brain. Fever, lethargy, and anorexia are common symptoms in infected animals and, in its late stages, the virus will attack an animal’s nervous system, brain, and spinal cord which could result in seizures, paralysis, and hysteria in a canine.
Recovery is possible, but many canines must be euthanized once infected.
Not the first time
In April, ACAC was forced to euthanize numerous animals and bleach and steam clean the shelter, precautions Testerman decided were necessary after speaking with animal control agencies across the state.
The virulent, deadly nature of the disease forced Robeson County to euthanize 60 dogs and quarantine its animal shelter for 19 days in February and March. Wilkes County reported 35 confirmed cases of distemper in 2011.
Testerman made the call to euthanize all dogs at the shelter, but made no guarantees they would not have to do so again.
“There’s no way to predict these things with any certainty, but we are anticipating more distemper cases in the county this year,” said Testerman in April.
Unfortunately, that prediction held true.
Animal Control’s daily cleaning routine is designed to kill viruses like parvo and distemper, but Testerman said animals in close proximity like those at the Ashe County Animal Shelter is an ideal way to spread disease.
“If a dog comes into the shelter with no records or history of vaccination and then starts exhibiting signs, that’s a difficult situation,” said Testerman in April.
Testerman said Monday unvaccinated animals are again the likely source of the most recent outbreak.
“Unvaccinated dogs are brought to the shelter by their owners, and we are requested to pick up stray dogs daily,” said Testerman. “These animals cannot tell us their vaccination history, and they don’t carry this info with them.”
Testerman said the Ashe County Animal Shelter doesn’t have the ability to quarantine animals, and said distemper’s airborne transmission means all animals at the shelter are at risk.
“Unvaccinated animals are highly susceptible to contracting viruses and diseases,” said Testerman. “All we can do at Ashe County Animal Shelter is try to prevent sicknesses and cross contamination through vigorous daily cleaning and sanitizing procedures that meet or exceed NCDA requirements.”
Testerman said animals that arrive at the shelter sick will be euthanized, as will animals that exhibit signs or symptoms of sickness inside the shelter. The only way to ensure Animal Control does not adopt out a sick dog is to not adopt anything out.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Testerman. “Even animals in close proximity may be healthy, but animals that are exposed, it’s in our best interest to put those animals down to prevent further spread of that virus.”
Vaccinations remain the best, and only, way of protecting your dog from contracting distemper, said Testerman.
Ashe County ordinances and NC General Statutes require animal owners to maintain rabies vaccinations, and to display a valid rabies tag on the dog’s collar, in addition to a tax tag. Without them, said Testerman, owners may be liable for citations and even criminal charges.
“Both rabies and Ashe County tax tags are considered identification and will help in locating animal owners if that animal becomes lost or impounded,” said Testerman. “If you allow your animal to run at large without ID, then you are risking having your animal impounded and possibly euthanized. It is the animal owner’s responsibility to control their animals and maintain current vaccinations and records. Animals that come in with current vaccinations may be available for adoption and or release to rescue organizations.”
More importantly, ID and vaccination records may keep your animal from being euthanized.
“We highly recommend that everyone check your animal’s vaccination history and make sure you are providing the much needed vaccinations,” said Testerman. “It may save your pet’s life.”