In mid-October, AmPA! advisor Faith Wright visited the rural east Texas community of Palestine to assist in disease management. After a dog adopted from BARC, the local Anderson County Humane Society, tested positive for Distemper at a veterinarian’s office, the shelter closed its doors to the public in an attempt to mitigate a potential outbreak.
Distemper is a common, but very serious, airborne virus that can affect unvaccinated dogs, ferrets, and a handful of wild species like raccoons, wolves, foxes, and skunks. It initially attacks the dog's tonsils and lymph nodes and replicates itself there for about a week. It then attacks the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, and/or nervous systems.
Most shelters and veterinary clinics in the United States euthanize for this disease because it was once thought to be untreatable, and the common response to a suspected distemper outbreak in a shelter is to depopulate – meaning any animal that potentially came into contact with the disease is euthanized. Through our work at Austin Pets Alive!, we found that distemper is, in fact, treatable, and many dogs who have contracted the disease have gone on to live happy lives in adoptive homes.
In a local news story "44 dogs to be put down in distemper outbreak," BARC board president was open about the advice of depopulation as the only solution for the potential outbreak, provided by a consulting veterinarian and the State Department of Health. After 18 of the shelter’s dogs were euthanized, the University of Florida reached out to help save the remaining 26 dogs. AmPA! was also contacted by BARC leadership and accepted the invitation to visit the shelter. The purpose of the visit was to offer “help and guidance for the latest cleaning techniques to help kill the disease in our facility,” a BARC board member told the Palestine Herald in an article on October 14.
American Pets Alive! (AmPA!) travels to shelters and rescues all around Texas and across the country for consultations and assessments. Our instructors implement intake vaccine, housing, and cleaning protocols proven to prevent the spread of disease. We also assist organizations in the development and creation of foster and adoption programs to safely house pets that have been exposed to or have contracted this and other contagious diseases.
Euthanizing the 18 dogs had a devastating impact on staff and leadership, causing them to seek alternative solutions. They were inspired by and open to the expert advice and lifesaving alternatives offered by the University of Florida and AmPA! With the goal of saving the remaining 26, BARC committed to ensuring no more animals were killed. They immediately implemented a vaccine intake protocol, new cleaning protocols, and reached out to recent shelter patrons to offer free testing to any dog who had left the shelter in the last 30 days. The decision was made by BARC to stop the depopulation, and rather than euthanize the remaining dogs, the shelter decided to test them. The goal was to provide live outcomes for the 26 surviving dogs.
Today, with two rounds of testing complete, the results are in! The 26 dogs tested negative for Distemper and the shelter reopened its doors. All 26 dogs are now available for adoption. Joining the community of Palestine, Texas, we celebrate the changes made by the BARC Humane Society. When shelter leaders openly accept new ideas and make the choice to implement lifesaving solutions to stop the unnecessary deaths of shelter pets, we consider this a victory. We are honored to have been a part of this journey and expect to see adoption photos for all of the 26 dogs whose lives were saved!