Animal shelter shuts down due to virus outbreak

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The regional animal shelter in Galax had to euthanize eight dogs after five animals died of canine distemper, a highly contagious airborne illness.

By April Wright, Reporter


Eight dogs were euthanized and five others have died in the past week due to an outbreak of canine distemper at the regional animal shelter on Fair Street in Galax, which will be shut down until next Wednesday, or even longer.

Recently adopted dogs from the shelter also could have been exposed.

The city's supervising veterinarian, Dr. Clark Fincher of the Galax Veterinary Clinic, said a dog adopted from the regional animal shelter was brought into the clinic last week and diagnosed with distemper.

He notified the city and recommended that the animal shelter be shut down for at least seven days and thoroughly disinfected of the canine illness.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious airborne viral disease that is often fatal and affects the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, optic nerves and central nervous systems. Canine distemper cannot be spread to humans or cats. It is not to be confused with feline distemper.

Puppies between 3-6 months are most susceptible, even though older dogs can also be effected.

The disease starts off with a cough, then leads to lethargy, nasal discharge and vomiting, Fincher said of the symptoms.

“It takes at least two weeks for symptoms to show up,” said Fincher. “So by the time the dog is already adopted out, it's already too late.”

To take precautions against the deadly virus, the shelter put down all the dogs that were housed at the animal shelter.

Recently, the city begun working with Wythe County Human Society volunteers, who have picked up 35 dogs in September to assist in adopting them out. However, three of those dogs died, said Galax City Manager Keith Barker.

The remaining dogs are being fostered and quarantined by volunteers.

“This is just a bad coincidence that we just started working with the human society and then we have a distemper outbreak at the same time,” said Barker.

Barker said the city still plans to coordinate with the human society in the future to see that more animals are adopted out.

He isn't sure how the disease was brought into the clinic, he said, but after speaking with the shelter's management on Monday about the problem, the facility was shut down on Tuesday.

“If dogs have to come in to the shelter, they will have to be housed somewhere else — at an animal shelter in a different county — Floyd, Wythe or Patrick counties,” said Barker. “If we bring in animals now, it may potentially expose them to distemper.”

Fincher said it is important to have dogs vaccinated. The vaccination, he noted, can take up to two weeks to take effect and does not work on dogs that have already been exposed to the illness.

“The disease is easily preventable with a vaccine,” said Fincher.

The disease is almost always fatal, he added. If a dog undergoes treatment, it is expensive, and the dog may still be left with neurological effects, such as seizures.

Although this is the shelter's first outbreak of distemper, the clinic has had to close for a couple of outbreaks of canine parvovirus, a more common, contagious and fatal disease.