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Kanawha shelter reopens after distemper outbreak

Lawrence Pierce
Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association Animal Shelter director Donna Clark visits one of two pit bull strays picked up Thursday. It was the shelter's first day open after a two-week closure caused by a distemper outbreak.
Lawrence Pierce This Dalmatian mix is one of four dogs dropped off at the shelter on Thursday.
Lawrence Pierce The dogs dropped off by their owners Thursday are available for adoption immediately, Clark says.
Lawrence Pierce A few dogs remain under quarantine, to make sure they aren't sick before being put up for adoption.
Lawrence Pierce One of three cats at the shelter peers hopefully through the cage bars.
Lawrence Pierce A sign on the door tells patrons the shelter is open again.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha-Charleston Animal Shelter reopened slowly Thursday after a two-week closure caused by distemper.

Four dogs were dropped off at the animal shelter by their owners, and two stray pit bulls were picked up on the shelter's first day in operation since the Dec. 19 closure.

"I thought we would be blasted with dogs coming in," said shelter director Donna Clark, "but we haven't been."

An outbreak of distemper was discovered among the shelter's 96 dogs on Dec. 19. Members of the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association initially thought all 96 animals might have to be euthanized to stop the spread of the disease, but voted in an emergency meeting to adopt out as many animals as possible.

In the hours following discovery of the disease, a team of veterinarians examined every dog at the shelter to decide which animals could be saved. An initial check showed about 40 dogs healthy enough for adoption. Fifty were placed under quarantine.

During a whirlwind "adopt-a-thon" on Dec. 20 and 21, the shelter adopted out 47 dogs before closing for cleaning and decontamination.

"We ended up putting 18 dogs to sleep," Clark said.

However, a few of the dogs that were adopted out also got sick with either distemper or parvovirus and had to be euthanized. Clark isn't sure how many, because the animals were taken to different area veterinarians and not all of the owners told shelter officials the animals had to be put to sleep.

Although every dog that comes into the animal shelter is vaccinated against distemper and other diseases, Clark said that if an animal comes in that is already sick, the vaccine doesn't do much good. A few dogs remain under quarantine at the shelter to see if they will get sick.

The four dogs dropped off by their owners Thursday, though, are available for adoption immediately, Clark said. The two pit bulls, which appear to be from the same litter, will be available for adoption on Jan. 16.

Clark said shelter staff members are ready for a new crop of animals to be brought in. "Right now we're just trying to clean," she said, "and we're vaccinating anything that comes in."

Because of the incubation period of distemper, it isn't always possible to spot the disease right away. "It's like kids having the flu at day care," Clark said. She said a parent might drop a healthy child at the day-care center, but if one of the other kids is sick, the child might come home with the flu.

Clark urged pet owners to keep their shots current on their pets, and to vaccinate them if they haven't already done so.

"Before you come out here and adopt, be sure your pets at home are safe," she said. "Call your vet if you're not sure."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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