ATHENS, Ala. - An infected dog is causing a local animal shelter to close its doors and put down nearly 30 animals. The Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter staff say they discovered an animal in their care that was infected with canine distemper virus. Because it is so contagious the shelter closed this week to keep the virus from spreading and to sanitize the facility.
It was a dreary day at the Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter. Outside the rain was pouring down and inside the shelter there was an outpouring of emotion.
"It's really truly been heartbreaking," shelter volunteer April Prater said.
The situation brings this volunteer to tears. 30 dogs have been put down. Canine distemper virus or CDV is a contagious, deadly disease that attacks the respiratory system and several organs before moving to the nervous system. Dr. Robert Pitman, director of the shelter, says the outbreak started with one sick Great Pyrenees who was brought in several weeks ago.
"Great, great dogs, just gentle and a wonderful pet, and they could be deadly sick and not show any signs," he said.
It is what happened at the shelter.
"He developed a soft cough that we see with kennel cough in early stages and it progressed to stages of distemper," he said.
Other dogs began getting sick. They weren't responding to treatment, so he sent off samples for testing. It turned out they had CDV. Since they didn't know the Great Pyrenees was sick, the infected dog was placed with several dogs that were adoptable. Because of that, dogs that were adopted out may be infected. In fact, Dr. Pitman talked to people Thursday who were worried about their pets. He is asking people to bring their dogs back to the shelter if they get sick.
Several dogs are being quarantined and there could be more dogs than end up being euthanized. The shelter is working to get all the vaccinated, healthy dogs a place to stay outside of the shelter before they begin a deep-cleaning process to sanitize the facility. Pitman expects to be able to start cleaning the shelter Friday and thinks the shelter will open its doors again right after Christmas.
Community Steps Up to Help Shelter
Staff is working to find temporary placements or adopt out the healthy, vaccinated dogs who were not affected by the canine distemper outbreak. It's an all hands on deck situation. Some volunteers left their jobs to come help. If the dogs don't find a place to stay, the animals will most likely go home with one of the dedicated volunteers.
"I have currently puppies, so I am trying to move them to another home so we can take one of the adult dog over here that's been here for a while," volunteer April Prater said.
Several dog rescue non-profits took the lead of that effort. People stopped by, taking carloads of dogs at a time. Other groups and even individuals in the community showed up carrying bleach and cleaning supplies. These were cheerfully welcomed at the shelter. That support is a bright spot on a very cloudy day.
"You see the dogs every day, and you work with the dogs every day, you get to know the dogs," Prater explained.
30 dogs have been euthanized and that number could grow if quarantined dogs begin showing signs that they are infected. The staff believes this outbreak one unvaccinated dog started this outbreak and are taking this moment as an opportunity to remind people how important it is to vaccinate your pets.
"One dog. It takes one dog. It takes one person to be around a dog that is not vaccinated to step foot in here and infect everybody," volunteer Ashley Anderton said.