From the Douglas County Sentinel:
Disease closes animal shelter

The Georgia Department of Agriculture has temporarily closed the Carroll County and Douglas County animal shelters due to an outbreak of canine distemper in the West Georgia area.

The Carroll County shelter was closed last week, and the Douglas County shelter was closed Thursday night, according to Wes Tallon, county communications and community relations director.

“Canine distemper is a contagious, incurable, viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems,” Tallon said. “It is preventable in dogs via vaccinations. However, the virus occurs among, and is fairly common, in canine species including raccoons, skunks, coyotes and foxes.”

Infected animals primarily transmit the virus through the air — close contact is enough. For example, an unvaccinated domestic dog can become infected through an interaction with an infected raccoon while chasing it. Puppies between 3 – 6 months old and unhealthy adult dogs are the most susceptible to infection and disease.

“Officials surmise that an infected wild animal came in contact with a domesticated dog somewhere in West Georgia, and that the virus then began to quickly spread,” Tallon said. “This is not a virus that has occurred due to kennel conditions.”

Tallon said it’s somewhat difficult to identify canine distemper at first due to its mimic of kennel cough, a common and non-threatening occurrence of animals in a close-environment shelter. More advanced symptoms include heavier respiratory symptoms and may include seizures.

He said the Douglas County Animal Shelter has segregated as many of the housed animals as possible and is in the process of scrubbing and sanitizing all cages and kennels, as required by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. “Since the virus is airborne, all ceiling tiles and duct work in the shelter are being cleaned and sanitized, as well as the air conditioning system,” Tallon said. “Ceiling tiles not able to be reused will be disinfected to the extent possible, double-bagged and sealed before being appropriately disposed. Countertops and surfaces are being sanitized. The animal control vehicles are also being sanitized.”

Unfortunately, very young puppies and the sick and injured dogs in the Shelter had to be euthanized on the advice and counsel of the kennel veterinarian due to their low immune system, Tallon said. The remainder of the animals are being segregated inside and outside in sanitized kennels with permission by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The sanitized outside runs at the Douglas County Animal Shelter will be used on Sunday, May 25, with state approval, for segregation of the stray dogs picked up by animal shelter staff.

No animals will be allowed to be dropped off at the Douglas County Animal Shelter until at least June 6 after the quarantine period is over and an inspection from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Tallon said. It is anticipated that the animal shelter will reopen at that time.

“Veterinarians in both Carroll and Douglas counties said that they had not seen an outbreak of distemper in about 18 years due to the vaccination program,” Tallon said.

During the quarantine period, the Douglas County Animal Shelter will replace some of the ductwork in the building — a renovation planned for later this year, but which has been moved up on the schedule due to this occurrence.

The shelter staff is coordinating efforts will shelters in other areas to accept pets needing to be turned in by their owners since no animals can be accepted at the Douglas County Animal Shelter at this time.

No visitors will be allowed in the shelter during the quarantine. Humans most likely cannot be infected, but can be a carrier of the virus and then can pass it along to their personal pets. Dogs that are pets of animal shelter employees and volunteers were all previously vaccinated against the virus, but employees are taking precautions of washing clothes and personal items immediately after leaving the shelter, Tallon said.