Animal shelter back in business

Adoptions resume after parvo virus forces weeklong closing

October 19, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Anne Arundel County animal shelter is returning to adoptions-as-usual after a deadly virus that infected three dogs prompted a weeklong closure of the kennel.

Since the shelter in Millersville reopened Tuesday, six dogs have been adopted and several animal rescue groups were slated to adopt 12 others yesterday and today, said Nick Haynes, the kennel supervisor.

The renewed interest has buoyed spirits since three dogs were euthanized over a three-week period after contracting Parvoviral enteritis, or parvo for short. Parvo, an intestinal virus, is the scourge of animal shelters because it can linger in porous surfaces or crevices for months or even years, can be picked up on shoes, clothing and fur, and is highly contagious.

The virus took a toll on volunteers and staff, who had to turn away potential owners, Haynes said.

"It could have been a perfect match for one of the dogs, so it's very difficult to deal with," he said.

Parvo is difficult to detect -- even with testing -- until dogs show symptoms. Often the first symptoms of the virus are a dark, tarry stool. Sick dogs are lethargic and sometimes vomit or won't eat.

It usually takes five to seven days for the virus to incubate. During that time, it can spread to other dogs. "It's almost like fighting a ghost," Haynes said.

The disease is not isolated to the Anne Arundel shelter. As many as two dozen dogs brought to the Humane Society of Harford County's shelter test positive for parvo each year and are immediately isolated, Director Tammy Zaluzney said.

Last month, the shelter curtailed adoptions and kept all dogs quarantined for nine days after a puppy adopted from the shelter tested positive for the virus.

"There was at that point no way of knowing if the puppy had parvo while at the shelter," she said. "As a precaution, we cut off all adoptions and tested about 50 dogs. Two were positive."

The shelter reopened about three weeks ago and has since had no recurrence, she said.

The Howard County Animal Control and Adoption facility has not had a parvo outbreak in at least 15 years, said Deborah Baracco, a shelter administrator. It vaccinates incoming dogs and keeps them in a separate kennel for about two weeks. Dogs that are at the shelter for three weeks get a second vaccination. Any animal that looks "suspicious" is taken to a vet immediately, she said.

The shelter in Bay Ridge, which is run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County, isolates dogs for 10 days to allow potential symptoms to develop, said Sue Beatty, the shelter's executive director. It has been at least a year since the last case of parvo there.

While most of the animals at the SPCA were given up by owners no longer able to care for them, Beatty said, the county faces higher risks because it takes in many strays.

Unlike some private shelters, the county animal shelter is required to accept all dogs and hold them for at least five days. Shelter officials never know whether an animal might be introducing the virus into the shelter.

But it would be too costly to test every dog that came into the Millersville shelter for parvo, said Susan McDonough, a veterinarian contracted to advise and perform services for the shelter. Early tests often result in false negatives, she said.

Every dog there is vaccinated for parvo, but the vaccine can take one to two weeks to become effective in an adult dog, according to the University of California Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Generally the vaccine is not effective in dogs that are younger than 16 weeks old.

The shelter also does not have room to isolate new dogs from the main kennel, Haynes said.

The first dog diagnosed with parvo at the Anne Arundel County shelter initially tested negative for the disease, McDonough said. The one-year-old pit bull named Panama had a weak positive during the second test, she said. Panama had been seized on Sept. 13. Panama started to show signs of parvo on Sept. 25 and was euthanized that day when the owner refused to pick up the dog.

"Our fear was [of him] infecting all the other dogs," Haynes said.

The shelter reopened after two days, but animal control officers did not realize that a 10-month-old chow mix named Sierra was incubating the virus. Sierra came to the shelter on Sept. 20 and was adopted nine days later. The new owner returned her two days later when she started vomiting. She tested positive and was euthanized Oct. 1.

The shelter decided to close after it found its third case, Patrick, a six-month-old Manchester terrier. He appeared healthy when he was adopted Oct. 3. When he wouldn't eat and started to have diarrhea, his new owner took him back to the shelter to be tested, but the first test came back negative. A second test came back with a weak positive, then two follow-up tests turned out negative.

"At that time we didn't euthanize because we were wondering, `What do we have here?'" Haynes said.

A week after he was adopted, Patrick "crashed," and he had to be euthanized Oct. 10, he said.

So far, the kennel has had no other incidents.

Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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