CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials said 80 dogs at the Kanawha-Charleston Animal Shelter would be euthanized after two of the animals contracted a contagious viral infection.
The shelter's Greenbrier Street facility would be closed until further notice, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. The Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association's Facebook page said the shelter would be closed for the next three weeks.
Carper said Donna Clark, the shelter's director, told him on Wednesday that there had been an outbreak and there needed to be a "massive cleanup."
"It happened because an animal came in infected with it and passed it on. These animals are not inoculated -- they are stray animals," Carper said.
Clark didn't return several phone calls Wednesday afternoon.
The Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association will hold an emergency board meeting Thursday at 9 a.m. at the shelter to come up with alternatives to euthanasia.
Distemper is a viral disease that can affect pet dogs, wild canines and big cats, said Dr. Koren Moore Custer, assistant state veterinarian.
Dogs with distemper begin demonstrating symptoms of respiratory infection, Custer said. If left untreated, it progresses to a neurological disease that is almost always fatal, she said.
However, Custer said the canine form of the disease couldn't spread to cats. Cats have their own form of the disease specific to their species known as feline panleukopenia.
Both diseases could be prevented with a vaccine, but each county shelter has its own procedures concerning vaccinations for newly admitted pets.
State Veterinarian Dr. Jewell Plumley said her office was told two dogs preliminarily tested positive for distemper at the shelter on Wednesday. Further testing would determine definitively if the dogs contracted the condition.
"I think one dog has been sent for necropsy at Virginia Tech," she said.
It's ideal to quarantine infected dogs from healthy ones when there's an outbreak. However, it's difficult for shelter employees to pinpoint what areas of the shelter may be contagious, she said.
Carper said quarantining the animals would not be possible.
"The decision has been made and there's no alternative but to lay down these animals," he said.
Any sick dogs cannot leave the shelter because there's a chance they could infect rest of the community, according to a statement on the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association's Facebook page.
"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," according to the statement.
The shelter is looking for volunteers to shelter stray animals until the disease risks are over with.
Plumley said her office steps in to help local shelters with biohazard risks at the request of county commissions or county sheriff's departments. Her office has not been asked to step in, she said.
Carper said he has asked for Plumley's advice in writing. He's also asked Clark to contact Charleston-area veterinarians for advice.
The County Commission doesn't have direct control over the shelter, but is the shelter's primary funding source, he said.
"It's not my job to tell them what to do," Carper said. "They made a decision and I'm going to support them in it."
He's offered the shelter home confinement prisoners and county employees to help with the cleanup.
Plumley said there was a distemper outbreak at the Cabell County Animal Shelter over the summer and at the Mercer County Animal Shelter in the spring.
In September, the Preston County Animal Shelter was shut down for more than a week after several puppies came there infected with parvovirus. All other shelter dogs were vaccinated.
Reach Travis Crum at travis.c...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.