Category Archives: Distemper

Robeson adoption rate “less than half” of pre-distemper levels

The Robeson County pound killed 1,035 pets during the months of March, April and May 2012 because of a distemper outbreak (which was at least the third large distemper outbreak there in a little more than a year), and now adoptions are less than half of what they were before the outbreak and the kill rate has “barely decreased,” according to an article in The Robesonian.

The shelter reopened on May 23 after being closed since Feb. 29. In June and July combined, 1,001 dogs and cats were euthanized, 152 animals were adopted or rescued and 35 pets were reclaimed by their owners — an average survival rate of 16.5 percent for dogs and 9.5 percent for cats. August statistics were not available for this story.

Oh, but rest assured, it’s not their fault! Former director Lori Baxter (now employed blaming others for the failure of the Sampson County pound) and former adoption coordinator Sara Hatchell stole the pound’s “customers,” (i.e. rescue groups) when they left to take jobs at other pounds, according to Robeson County Health Director Bill Smith. “It’s much the same as any employee who leaves an employer, they sometimes take customers with them,” Smith said. “… Somebody else gained, and we lost.”

(Meanwhile, Robeson pound’s adoption coordinator Wanda Strickland might not be endearing herself so much to the rescuers who do choose to work with her.)

Actually, it’s pretty nice of Smith not to blame Baxter for the distemper outbreaks to begin with, since they happened during her tenure as manager (as did a “dip” in adoption rates and a spike in kill rates, despite ballyhoo about how she “turned the shelter around”). But wait, as her boss, Smith is probably the one who holds the purse strings, so it may have been his decision not to administer vaccinations upon intake, which are “vital lifesaving tools that must be used as part of a preventive shelter healthcare program.”

Smith also assigns some blame for his shelter’s failure to … wait for it … “poor treatment by county residents of their animals.” The Irresponsible Public! But again, wait … who is it that interim manager Bryon Lashley says will soon be coming in greater numbers to adopt and are currently bringing “donations of puppy food, dog food, cat food and toys coming in and helping us out”? The article says it’s local residents … yes, the Irresponsible Public to the rescue again.

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Filed under "irresponsible public", Distemper, Robeson County

Distemper strikes Ashe County pound again; Shame on you, Joe Testerman

Distemper has once again hit the Ashe County Pound, where dogs are vaccinated “if we have the vaccine,” according to director Joe Testerman. In other words, no, he doesn’t bother to practice proper disease-preventing protocols in his shelter, and then goes on to cry crocodile tears about how “heartbreaking” it is.

“Even animals in close proximity may be healthy, but animals that are exposed, it’s in our best interest to put those animals down to prevent further spread of that virus.” So, just to be clear: Joe Testerman prefers to spend money on Fatal-Plus to KILL the animals in his shelter than to spend some of that money on vaccines that are “possibly the single most powerful weapon we possess for stopping significant disease outbreaks in their tracks.” (Oh, never mind, the Ashe County pound uses the barbaric gas chamber to kill, doesn’t it?)

But hey, wait a minute: Testerman says vaccinations remain the best, and only, way of protecting your dog from contracting distemper.

“We highly recommend that everyone check your animal’s vaccination history and make sure you are providing the much needed vaccinations,” said Testerman. “It may save your pet’s life.”

And yet, Mr. Testerman,  you refuse to vaccinate the animals that come into your pound. If you were to practice what you preach and vaccinate all animals at or before intake into your facility, you could save HUNDREDS of lives. Vaccination is not a guarantee that no shelter animal will get a disease such as distemper, but it is the most important step in preventing a widespread outbreak that will cost many lives. “In some cases, the chance of the vaccine preventing disease may be 90% or better if given the day before exposure, but will drop to less than 1% if given the day after exposure.

Shame on you, Joe Testerman. How dare you push the blame onto others for a disease outbreak YOU can prevent in YOUR facility.

This is the second distemper outbreak in the Ashe County pound this year. After the previous one, Joe Testerman said: “There’s no way to predict these things with any certainty, but we are anticipating more distemper cases in the county this year.” And yet he still failed to do the most important thing he could do to prevent it.

The Ashe County pound killed  69.44 percent of dogs and 96.59 percent of cats that came in during 2011, for a total kill rate of 84.38 percent.

Ashe County Animal Shelter Outcome Statistics 2011

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Filed under "Nobody WANTS to kill animals ...", Ashe County, Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds

Not NC (but could be): Mobile County shelter fail

NOTE: I originally l wrote the post thinking that Trisha, the adopter, had gotten the dog from the Mobile SPCA, which is a “no-kill” guaranteed adoption” shelter. Turns out, I misunderstood, not knowing the difference between it and the Mobile County shelter. I have amended this entry to reflect that. Also, apologies to the Mobile SPCA, which, one hopes, might actually vaccinate upon arrival!)

This is not an NC story, but I’m sure there have a been a few like it here : A family adopts a dog from the Mobile County shelter only to discover it has distemper a week later. The mom called the shelter to alert them and discovered that the sheter had killed 86 dogs over the past month because of the disease. The adopted dog, Captain,  had not been vaccinated until a week and a half after his arrival at the shelter.

Waiting a week and a half to deliver a vaccination that should be given first thing upon arrival is a recipe for disease outbreak. Especially when 450 distemper-infected racoons have been captured in your area recently. An easily imagined scenario is that the Mobile county shelter didn’t vaccinate Captain until after they discovered their distemper outbreak and were hoping to do some damage control.

And once they discovered the outbreak, did the shelter do the responsible thing and let the community know, counseling every adopter for signs to watch out for and advising them on safe practices to make sure they aren’t inadvertently spreading distemper to other dogs? It appears not. Captain’s new family wasn’t warned. A Google search for various permutations of Mobile, AL,  and distemper turns up no news articles, alerts or press releases (except regarding the raccoon distemper epidemic), and there is nothing at all on the Mobile County shelter site.

As for Captain, as of yesterday he was still hanging in there , with a lot of love and care from his new family.

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Amid statewide distemper outbreak, local vets shut down Richmond County affordable vaccination clinic

Over the past few months, distemper has closed pounds and cost the lives of hundreds of dogs in North Carolina. Robeson, Duplin, Wayne, Mecklenburg, Iredell and Ashe counties have all had outbreaks in their pounds, and there are probably more places where the pounds are keeping their outbreaks hushed up. In many cases, the shelter directors, most of whom did not have a policy of vaccination upon intake, blamed pet owners for not vaccinating.

Meanwhile, the NC branch of HSUS  and the Richmond County Humane Society (which runs the county pound) teamed up to make it easy and affordable for “underserved” pet owners in that county to help stop distemper via  a $3 vaccination clinic.  Each $3 copay for the donated vaccines was to go to the participating vet clinics, and pet owners would be referred to the vets for further services. But veterinarians Will Cooley of Cooley Veterinary Hospital in Rockingham, and Ralph Souder of Gandy Animal Hospital decided not to participate in  the clinic, which was to be held Saturday in Rockingham.

In a stunning display of complete stupidity and irresponsibility, Cooley said: “The general public’s animals are not affected by the distemper outbreak. We feel like non-profits are coming in to practice veterinary medicine. This hype about distemper alarms the public about a problem that is not a problem. They were not going to address the problem. Gathering dogs that are unvaccinated in one area would only make the problem worse.”

He went on to say that NC State University veterinary students, who were going to perform the actual vaccinations as practice, don’t need the practice and should “go to shelters and vaccinate those dogs.” While that would be a fantastic idea, Cooley’s argument that the “general public” shouldn’t bother vaccinating their dogs amid a statewide distemper outbreak is appalling.

Would Cooley say the same if someone were paying him the going rate of $15-30 per shot (plus office visit fee) for the service, or would he shut up, vaccinate the dogs and thank the owners for their business?

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Filed under Distemper, Richmond County

Iredell County had distemper outbreak in March, now vaccinates on intake

It’s starting to seem like “all distemper all the time” here in North Carolina. Here’s a story I missed a few weeks ago: the Iredell County pound had a distemper outbreak in late March.

Oh wait, the pound had not-an-outbreak, according to the director “I don’t believe this is an outbreak,” says shelter director Chris Royal, despite the fact that she reimbursed seven people their $80 adoption fee after their pets got sick.

Despite it not being an outbreak, Royal “depopulated” the facility, which is shelterspeak for “they killed all the dogs.”

The good news is that the Iredell pound is now vaccinating on intake.

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Filed under Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds

Answer from Ashe County: we vaccinate “if we have the vaccine”

After discovering that Ashe County pound had closed for distemper, I emailed AC director Joe Testerman to find out if he routinely vaccinated upon intake,  which is essential to preventing the spread of distemper in an animal control facility:

Vaccination is the cornerstone of distemper prevention in a shelter. The canine distemper vaccine is one of the most rapidly protective vaccines available in veterinary medicine: It can provide meaningful protection within hours of administration. All dogs 4-6 weeks of age and older should be vaccinated immediately upon intake with a modified live or recombinant vaccine (earlier end of age range in the face of an outbreak or high risk environment). The recombinant vaccine may provide superior protection in the face of  maternal antibodies, and therefore may be a good choice for puppies during an outbreak or in a community where distemper is a frequent threat. Because vaccintion is never absolutely reliable in puppies under four months, extra care should be taken to mechanically isolate puppies in a shelter facing a distemper problem.

Teasterman’s reply (emphasis mine): “We do vaccinate puppies upon receiving them if we have vaccine on hand. At this time the vaccinations we have are donated, and we have not been able to purchase these vaccinations as we are not bugeted for that. We are working on a proposed policy at this time.”

So in short, no, Ashe County  does not have a policy of vaccination upon intake. Testerman cites lack of funds, but  as at other pounds around the state, there seems  plenty of  budget for enough Fatal-Plus to kill all the dogs when it’s time to close the pound because of a distemper outbreak. (To my knowledge Ashe is not a gas chamber pound; someone please correct me if I am wrong.)

So in essence, even though killing bothers Joe Testerman, the lack of a vaccination protocol at his facility amounts to a de facto choice of killing over saving lives. The reality is that sooner or later a dog carrying distemper will enter a  shelter. The only protocol that can protect the rest of the animals in that facility starts with vaccination upon intake.

But Joe Testerman seems sincere, and if he really does want to stop killing so many animals I am on his side. So I emailed him back:

The truth is that there IS an answer for it, and it you really are willing to listen I would be happy to share. Others have taken shelters just like yours and turned their numbers upside-down, going from 85 percent kill rates to 90 percent+ SAVE rates, often in the first year.
For example, in a small Texas town, a police sergeant with no previous animal control experience was put in charge of the animal control center. He told his boss he would do it only if he didn’t have to kill animals. And he did it:

Sgt. Karl Bailey of Seagoville Animal Services is an inspiration: a veteran of the police department, he took over a rural kill shelter in Texas with no experience, abolished the gas chamber on his first day, ordered that the killing come to an end, and last year saved roughly 98% of all the animals. Seagoville, Texas just might be the safest community in the U.S. for dogs and cats entering shelters—on average, only one animal loses his or her life every month, due to extreme illness, injury, or for dogs, aggression.

You can read more here if you are interested.

Just to our north in Virginia there are now SEVEN open-admission city or county shelters that have achieved lifesaving rates of 90 percent or more:  Arlington,  Charlottesville,  Fluvanna County, King George County, Lynchburg,  Williamsburg, and Powhatan County. There are also several more “in progress” toward a 90 percent lifesaving rate (you can see more here, check out the list on the right-hand side of the page).

There is no reason you cannot achieve the same, and all you need to do is follow a formula that has been tried and tested by many before you.
Yes, there is a lot of work involved, but the rewards would be huge for you, your community and thousands of animals you would be saving instead of killing. What’s more, once you put your facility on this positive path toward saving many more animals than you kill, you will almost certainly find members of your community who previously avoided your shelter lining up to help you do your life-affirming work.
You never know until you try …

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Filed under Ashe County, Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds, Robeson County

Ashe County also closed for distemper; NCVAW & HSUS-NC blames the public

The Ashe County pound was closed for distemper recently (although the article doesn’t make it clear exactly when or for how long, only that the pound director noticed the distemper in late March). They killed all the dogs, although again, the article isn’t specific on how many.

AC Director Joe Testerman said the outbreak “does bring home the need for county residents to vaccinate their dogs.” Yes, but does the shelter also vaccinate upon intake? The article does not say (but I have emailed Joe Testerman to ask).While not a magic bullet, “vaccination is the cornerstone of distemper prevention in a shelter.”  That’s assuming, of course, that the manager’s preferred protocol is not to just kill all the dogs and hope to start over again clean.

Ashe County did not report their 2010 outcome statistics to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They claim a 15% adoption rate for last year on their web page. (They also claim that the national adoption rate is only 4%, a number that seems way off. The rates I usually see are 15% for cats and 25% for dogs. But if national statistics are kept the way North Carolina’s are, it’s really anyone’s guess.)

Meanwhile on Facebook, Susie’s Law, a.k.a North Carolina Voters For Animal Welfare, and the NC branch of HSUS blamed the public for the recent rash of distemper outbreaks at county pounds.

“Our shelters are a reflection of our community,” the NCVAW chirps. Yeah, no … I’m pretty sure no one in my community is killing anywhere near as many animals as  our so-called “shelters” are. In fact, Many people I know are aghast when they discover just how much killing goes on at these places.

“If Parvo and Distemper are present in the shelter it means that we have to do a better job vaccinating within the community,” says NCVAW. Meanwhile, they give pound managers a pass for skipping that bit, even though it’s step #1 of preventing the spread of distemper in a pound.

But the bit that’s hardest to take of the NCVAW post is ” It is important to support our shelters that are going through the terrible experience of finding that they have Distemper.” Not a word about the terrible experience of the dogs killed.

Fifty bucks says NCVAW won’t be on board when we introduce a Companion Animal Protection Act bill in NC. (No bets on HSUS–they can be counted on to oppose shelter reform.)

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Filed under Ashe County, Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds, North Carolina Voters For Animal Welfare

More distemper; Wayne County tries to get it right

The bad news is that the Wayne County pound has closed for three weeks after taking in some puppies who had distemper. But the good news is that they appear to be trying to handle it responsibly, instead of following the bad examples set by Duplin and Robeson counties.

It’s almost inevitable that sooner or later an animal with distemper will find its way into a pound, particularly in rural counties. That’s why Wayne county vaccinates upon arrival. Every animal impound facility should.

Furthermore, instead of waiting for the disease to spread (while keeping silent and sending out sick animals who infect others), the Wayne County managers actually decided to be proactive and close the facility before the deadly disease spread. And unlike other counties who decide it’s easier just to kill all the resident animals and start all over, Wayne County is hoping to keep its animals alive. From the Friends of Wayne County Animals Facebook page:

Friends, the shelter has confirmed cases of distemper. In order to contain and control distemper, the shelter will be CLOSED for 3 weeks to the general public. During that time, the shelter will be disinfected daily and the animals will be monitored for signs/symptoms of distemper. The shelter’s GOAL is to SAVE having to euthanize healthy animals. Our shelter vaccinates every animal (within age), so their hope is that no others will get sick.

Unfortunately, they will continue to take in strays, but they are a county pound and have a mandate. I would find it really distressing if one of my dogs got loose and ended up in a distemper quarantined pound. But if the shelter manager and staff really are being as diligent as they say, the strays might have a chance.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say what chance a stray would have at that shelter absent a distemper quarantine, because Wayne County failed to report their 2010 numbers to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. And the NCDA&CS is not finished compiling the 2011 stats yet. I have emailed the officials in charge of the Wayne County pound and requested these documents, but there’s no telling if they will send them.

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Filed under Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds, Wayne County

Rescuers and adopters battle distemper spreading from NC pounds

A rescuer who pulled a dog from the Duplin County pound in early February ended up losing that dog, plus a litter of five pups she was fostering, to distemper. A dog adopted from Duplin County was boarded at a Triangle area kennel and another dog there soon came down with distemper, despite having been vaccinated. Before long, the kennel was forced to close for 30 days and 14 dogs were dead, including the kennel owner’s personal pets. A young Durham vet tech who pulled a dog to foster  from the Robeson County shelter, not knowing the shelter was in the midst of one of many distemper outbreaks, only managed to save the animal after spending thousands of dollars at NCSU vet school.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious airborne disease that kills nearly half of the adult dogs who come in contact with it and nearly 80-percent of puppies.  In family pets, the best prevention is vaccination, but stopping the spread in animal shelters requires a combination of vaccination, quarantine, isolation, disease recognition/diagnostic testing and environmental decontamination. In shelters that fail to follow these protocols, the disease can spread rapidly and leave the facility via adopted and rescued dogs before shelter managers realize they have an outbreak going on.

The Robeson County Shelter keeps HALF its 50 kennels empty at all times, meaning they routinely kill dogs even when there is plenty of space for them, because they say it “reduces disease outbreaks.” How is that working out for them?

Distemper Won't Leave Us...

The Robeson pound closed for a distemper outbreak on March 26, killing all the dogs who had the misfortune to be there. It had only just reopened on March 19 after the previous distemper outbreak, which cost the lives of at least 60 dogs. This comes a year after a large distemper outbreak at the Robeson pound caused it to be closed for two weeks of quarantine.

This pound has a long history of failed inspections, neglect allegations and suspicion of improper euthanasia, all of which have been extensively chronicled at YesBiscuit!. This record of shoddy standards notwithstanding, (now former) director Lori Baxter laid the blame for the distemper outbreak on “the public”: “This is 100 percent preventable, and if people do not start vaccinating their animals, it’s never going to end,” Baxter said, despite the fact that the Robeson pound itself does not regularly vaccinate upon intake the way any pound that wants to prevent the spread of distemper must.

Yes, people should vaccinate their pets against distemper. But since when have ALL the dogs that come into a rural pound been escaped or lost family pets? Since probably never. Countless animals that make it into rural pounds have either been stray for months or years or were born out in the rough and have never had a home. Every shelter manager should expect that animals coming into the facility may not have been vaccinated and have possibly been exposed to CDV (also carried by many common wild mammals), and take proper precautions. The best defenses against spreading the virus are to segregate new arrivals, maintain a clean facility and vaccinate every new animal upon arrival. The spread of distemper once it is inside a facility is the pound manager’s fault, not the public’s, and it is preventable.

Meanwhile, two counties away in Duplin, the outbreaks have been alternating between parvovirus and distemper, beginning in early December 2011. On December 5 a parvo outbreak was reported on Pet Friends of Duplin County’s Facebook page.  Although the Duplin pound manager Joe Newborn apparently knew of the outbreak, he continued to release dogs until announcing on December 18 that the pound would close that week to kill all dogs and sanitize.

Less than two weeks later, a rescuer posted to the PFDC page that she suspected  a distemper outbreak at the pound.  Dogs continued to be released from the Duplin facility however, and before long a few other participants on the PFDC page posted their suspicions of a distemper outbreak.

On Feb. 9 the Pet Friends organization (not the pound management) notified some rescuers of the outbreak, far too late for many.

After the outbreak was announced on the PFDC facebook page, many PFDC supporters raised funds to purchase vaccines. But they were never administered because according to County manager Mike Aldridge, nobody at the pound knew how to administer them. Never mind that I learned how just now by googling “How to give a distemper vaccination.” There is no requirement that shelter staff be certified or licensed to give these vaccines, and knowing this is part of Aldridge’s and Newborn’s jobs.

Then in March, parvo spread again. The Duplin pound closed on March 12, killed all the dogs, and then opened again and took in new dogs on March 13. Meanwhile, Aldridge knows the pound is dirty and unsantizable because of cracked floors (noted repeatedly over six years of inspections by NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services vets), but he has no plans to do anything at all about it. He told rescuer Kris Casey “I am not going to spend $15,000 when the whole shelter needs to be bulldozed.”

And surprise! Aldridge also blamed “the public” in a conversation with Casey: “The problem begins with the fact that Duplin is a ‘poor’ county and the first thing poor people do is get an animal and they can’t take care of them and end up turning them loose.” But is it the public’s fault that the Duplin pound has not only failed its last 5 NCDA&CS inspections, but has passed only 6 of the 22 inspections performed since November 2006?

In August 2010 the NCDA&CS issued a warning letter to Duplin County for failing to correct repeated sanitation violations and in October 2011 the county was assessed civil penalty of $1,000 for non-compliance with the state animal welfare statute. Yet the shelter continues to operate, continuing a cycle of disease that results in the deaths of hundreds of dogs monthly and sends infected dogs into other NC communities. Meanwhile Mike Aldridge blames the people who pay him a salary to make sure their county services run correctly.

If these outbreaks really were because of unvaccinated dogs, one would expect similar stories from pounds in surrounding counties, right? But the also “poor” counties that sit between Duplin and Robeson have not been affected by the recent distemper outbreaks. Both Bladen and Sampson are rural counties, the pounds have annual budgets similar to those in  Robeson and Duplin and they probably have a similar percentage of residents who fail to vaccinate for parvo and distemper. Bladen county pound had a distemper outbreak in early 2010,  and Sampson had one in 2010 and 2011. But neither shelter has been stuck in a constant cycle of contagion like the Duplin and Robeson pounds. Perhaps they are doing something to prevent it? Maybe Mike Aldridge should call over to Bladen County and get some advice.

Until Duplin and Robeson Counties bring in managers who actually care about saving the lives of animals in their pounds (and the communities that rescue and adopt from them), expect more of the same. Unfortunately, it’s the animals who will pay the most.

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Filed under Distemper, Duplin, NC county/municipal pounds, Robeson County