AmPA! Helps Rusk County Transform Parvo Program

July 26th, 2019

On May 22, Rusk County Pets Alive (RCPA) contacted American Pets Alive! (AmPA!) with an urgent request to assist with a suspected parvovirus outbreak in their city’s shelter. With lives on the line, AmPA! extraordinaires Jordana Moerbe and Jessica Powers packed their bags and headed towards Henderson, Texas the very next day.

In the weeks leading up to AmPA!’s journey to Henderson, five puppies at the Henderson Animal Shelter (HAS) exhibited signs of parvovirus. Unfortunately, one puppy did die. The four others were transported to RCPA, where they tested positive for parvo – indicating a potential exposure of the city shelter’s puppy population. RCPA transported the surviving puppies to Austin Pets Alive!, where they entered into our Parvo Puppy ICU for treatment.

With the sick puppies receiving treatment in Austin, attention could turn to the 17 puppies still in Henderson who had been exposed to the virus. In many shelters across the country, the answer to parvo exposure for these 17 tiny lives would be euthanasia. Thankfully, for the past year, RCPA and HAS have pushed towards a No Kill philosophy in Henderson with help from AmPA!, and they weren’t going to let themselves, or these 17 lives, down now.

Immediately upon entering into the shelter, Moerbe and Powers observed a few incredible things: supportive government officials, and shelter leadership and staff that were committed to saving lives and open to change. Many shelters who face similar issues can be reluctant to embrace the changes needed to save lives, but it was clear that Henderson was ready to shift the current status quo of homeless companion animals in Rusk County, Texas.

Over the course of four days, RCPA and HAS worked with Moerbe and Powers to establish not only a new procedures for sick puppies entering into the city shelter’s care, but worked to establish new protocols in five main areas: animal intake, cleaning and sanitation, animal care, utilization of physical space, and community engagement.

Animal Intake

For many shelters, the thought of providing vaccinations to every pet that enters into their care seems unachievable. This is a misconception that has kept shelters from providing lifesaving healthcare for years. The truth is, this is an achievable goal that you are able to tailor to your shelter or rescue. The secret sauce of many of our programs? Tailoring. One size does not fit all in sheltering, and we recognize that; but what must stay consistent in order to maximize lifesaving is regular vaccination.

You can find university shelter medicine standard of care vaccination information here and here.

Cleaning and Sanitation

In the instance of HAS, we didn’t recommend a cleaning and sanitation protocol because they weren’t taking action, but because it wasn’t the most effective course of action. The correct type of cleaning product and procedure is essential to stopping the spread of diseases such as parvovirus and panleukopenia. We recommend using Wysiwash for cleaning kennels, and when using bleach, one must first use a detergent to break through organic materials. The correct dilution ratio to kill viruses is 1:32, and 1:10 to kill ringworm.

Animal Care

Neonatal kittens are truly some of the most vulnerable animals there are. These tiny lives are at complete risk of the elements, and can very easily fade if not given the right care. Thankfully, we have pioneered a proven, lifesaving program here in Austin. Since 2011, APA! has managed to save 100 percent of the neonatal kittens pulled from Austin Animal Center. Because of this success, we are always excited to share this model with shelters all across the country (so much so that we even have two apprenticeships on neonates: Nursery, Medical). In a similar line of work, pregnant moms also have specific care requirements in order to not only stay healthy themselves, but give birth to happy and healthy kittens and puppies.

For HAS, we recommended that they up the amount of food their kittens and pregnant mamas are receiving.

Utilization of Physical Space

None of us are strangers to working with limited resources. Therefore, we encourage shelters and rescues to take advantage of the space they have. In turn, they will maximize lifesaving in a multitude of creative ways! HAS quickly put plans in motion to utilize their front lobby and office spaces to provide for the pets in their care. Office spaces strictly being used for desk-work duties are in the past! Welcome to the future of office space, which now accommodates pregnant dog moms, puppies, and animals needing isolation (disincluding deadly/dangerous disease).

Community Engagement

There are a multitude of ways a shelter or rescue can utilize the amazing community they live in! More often than not, community members are more than willing to help support your lifesaving needs. A few key recommendations we gave to HAS were: altering shelter hours so that they accommodate the people in your community and their schedules, utilize intake diversion tactics (ie. owner surrender), create and/or expand foster programs, and use social media to enhance transparency.

“The information we have received from American Pets Alive! has been our road map! We have carefully followed the protocols and guidance from this proven system of lifesaving. After working on site with us in extensive training for parvo treatment, Jordana and Jess have created an open line of communication with us in all areas of rescue. They have assisted us and our new animal center director in making valuable connections with other rescues and in answering questions concerning treatments for particular animals,” shares Kelli Ballenger, co-founder and president of Rusk County Pets Alive.

It’s safe to say that Henderson Animal Shelter has success written into their future plans. If you would like to follow along with their incredible journey, check out HAS here, and Rusk County Pets Alive here.

American Pets Alive! is the educational program of Austin Pets Alive!. Thanks to an incredible and generous grant from Maddie’s Fund®, the Maddie's® Lifesaving Academy became possible. It’s here that Kelli Ballenger took the skills she learned and began Rusk County Pets Alive, which has already made an incredible impact on Rusk County, TX. If you would like to support our innovative, lifesaving, educational opportunities here in Austin, please consider giving today.


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