The Kanawha Charleston Humane Association in WV posted on its Facebook page yesterday that 2 dogs had tested positive for distemper. Although initial reports from the shelter indicated a plan to kill every pet in the building (there is reportedly a simultaneous outbreak of panleukopenia with the cats), later statements were modified. As of this morning, the shelter has killed 16 dogs and 8 cats and has arranged to have vets assess the rest of the population to determine if any can be saved. An emergency meeting has been called, per the shelter’s FB page:
Emergency board meeting, Thursday, December 20th, at 9 a.m. at the shelter. We will be reviewing the situation and seeing if we can come up with alternatives to putting all 80 animals to sleep. The public is welcome, but please note, public comment is limited to 30 minutes.
As is so often the case, the shelter director is blaming the public.
“What we get here is everyone’s throwaways,” [director Donna] Clark said. “You get dogs that never have vaccines, dogs running loose.”
And on Facebook:
Distemper is a result of the public not vaccinating their animals, not something KCHA did. [...] This is a very hard time for the shelter staff, as they have to put these animals to sleep, support instead of criticism from the public is greatly appreciated.
While it’s true that animal shelters do indeed take in some unvaccinated pets as well as “dogs running loose” – that is their job. We pay them for that. And certainly some of the pets they take in have been vaccinated previously, even if it’s unknown to the shelter, so it is not logical to assume that no pets in the population have immunity during an outbreak.
At any rate, while the shelter can not control the behavior of every pet owner in the community, they can, and must, do their job once they pick up a pet for impound. It begins with sanitizing every cage on the ACO truck in between animals. The officer too should change gloves or at least use hand sanitizer between handling animals. Before being brought into the building, or if that’s not possible then immediately upon entrance, all non-emergency pets should be vaccinated.
The shelter medicine program at UC Davis says distemper vaccine starts protecting dogs within minutes of administration:
Vaccines for canine distemper have been shown to provide very good protection, even when given only 15 minutes before exposure to the disease!
KCHA says they vaccinate all their pets:
Shelter employees vaccinate every animal that’s brought in, but the injections are useless if the dog or cat is already infected, according to Clark.
If KCHA is cleaning using standard disease prevention protocols and vaccinating all pets upon intake, there is absolutely no reason to be considering, or to have ever considered, killing the entire population because 2 dogs tested positive for distemper. It makes no sense. Some of the population is absolutely immune, if everyone at KCHA has been doing their job, which they say they have.
Instead of asking the public to support them killing pets, I think KCHA should reach out to the public for assistance with quarantine, which they will need in order to manage this outbreak. For example, are there any local cat owners willing to take in an asymptomatic dog for a few weeks to make sure he doesn’t break with distemper? Although the moronic pet limit law in the area might prevent some pet lovers from helping, for fear of being found to be over the limit. But again, I’m sure the public is to blame.
I will update this post today as warranted.
(Thanks Vicki, Kei and Clarice for alerting me to this story.)
Update: The shelter has posted on its FB page that the vets recommended only 4 dogs be euthanized. 40 dogs are asymptomatic and available for adoption. The remainder are being quarantined at the shelter. I could not find any information about the cats. If anyone sees any statements from the shelter about the cats, please share.