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?
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.