Canine distemper outbreak closes Maricopa County animal shelter


A highly contagious canine distemper outbreak in Maricopa County Animal Care and Control has caused its western shelterin Phoenixclose some of its buildings over the weekend.

On July 2, the shelter announced it had several confirmed cases of distemper – a highly contagious and deadly virus – at its western facility. Thursday morning, the refuge confirmed 12 positive cases of the disease after testing 100 dogs.

This resulted in around 40 dogs in four of the shelter’s buildings and caused an interruption in daily services. The county shelter has also suspended dog-to-dog introductions at its Mesa and Phoenix facilities.

The last outbreak of the disease occurred in June 2019 at the Mesa shelter site, forcing the shelter to quarantine its animals for nearly a month. In the first two weeks of quarantine, 40 dogs were euthanized after testing positive or showing severe symptoms.

The Phoenix location remained open during this quarantine, accepting animals that would normally have been sent to the Mesa shelter.

In this recent outbreak, eight dogs died of distemper, including seven that were euthanized after showing severe symptoms, said Monica Gery of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.

The shelter plans to end the quarantine on July 12, but that depends on a number of factors, according to Gery.

“It changes every day,” Gery said. “It depends on the tests we receive or if another dog is showing symptoms in another building. It is a very emotional challenge for us.”

An employee of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control administers a test to diagnose distemper in dogs at the shelter's western facility.

Extremely contagious and fatal, but preventable

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous system of a dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Distemper is spread very easily,” said Julie Laux of East Side Elves, a nonprofit that helps the county shelter with funding. “It could be from a dog barking, sneezing or coughing. ”

Symptoms include discharge from the eyes and nose, as well as fever, lethargy, vomiting, and pneumonia. Advanced signs may include convulsions, convulsions, and paralysis.

There is no cure because, once contracted, the disease is often fatal in dogs. Those who survive usually suffer permanent damage to their nervous system.

“It’s not just a shelter or a rescue issue, it’s a community issue,” Laux said. The problem mainly stems from unvaccinated dogs.

“An infected dog could be walking around your green belt or your dog park,” she said.

Laux said part of the worry is how long infected dogs are contagious. This period can last up to four months, even after a dog has recovered from the first symptoms, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University.

The disease is usually prevented by vaccination, but dogs can still contract it if they have gaps in vaccinations or come into contact with infected domestic or wild animals.

An employee of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control provides bullying sticks for dogs at the western facility of the shelter.  Due to strict quarantine orders for distemper, dogs cannot leave kennels and need long chew treats to keep them occupied.

An opportunity to help dogs in need

The West Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Shelter has put in place a strict quarantine for dozens of dogs that may have been exposed or are showing symptoms of distemper. According to Laux, dogs subject to these quarantine orders cannot leave their kennels.

Administering the test is an expensive undertaking. According to Gery, each test costs around $ 78 per dog and the lab results can take a few days to come back.

Due to the prize, the Elves of the East Side of Laux donated $ 5,000 to help cover the cost of the tests. Several other nonprofits, such as One Love Pitbull Foundation and Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue, also donated to help cover expenses.

However, the cost of the test is not the only issue faced by the county shelter. With the recent increase in admissions after the July 4th weekend, most dogs are subject to strict quarantine orders.

“It’s really at an unfortunate time because our July 4th intake has skyrocketed,” Gery said. “Even until Wednesday, we have received around 85 dogs a day.”

As of Thursday morning, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control had around 500 dogs in its shelters. This has drained resources and strained employees.

“It creates a more stressful environment and extra work,” Gery said. “Additional cleaning, use of PPE to enter buildings and need more donations.”

According to Gery, these dogs have been quarantined for at least a week and cannot leave their kennels until the end of the quarantine in order to avoid a possible spread of the disease. This means that their interactions with other dogs and even humans are severely limited.

The adoption and reception of dogs is one of the main concerns of the shelter.

“We need to get healthy dogs out of here so they don’t get exposed,” she said. “We will test these dogs before they are released.”

Gery added that most of the blankets, toys and other items that could have been contaminated were thrown away.

For this reason, the county refuge requested an increased need for enrichment items.

“They need sturdy toys, chew toys, bully sticks,” Laux said. “These enrichment toys and chews keep them busy so they don’t get bored so much in their kennels.”

Laux and Gery both suggested that community members could help the shelter by making a tax-deductible donation or purchasing enrichment items from its Amazon wishlist.

Contact late-breaking reporter Monica D. Spencer at [email protected] or on Twitter @monicadspenser.

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