A sign for the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control stands in the midst of pine trees on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. ACC Animal Services is now its own department. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Another fatal virus has hit the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control, resulting in three stray puppies being euthanized this month due to cases of contagious parvovirus. 

The dog section of the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control’s shelter will be under quarantine until Sept. 16 because the euthanized puppies carried canine parvovirus, a highly contagious illness that affects puppies and other unvaccinated dogs, according to a Sept. 4 ACC Public Information Office news release.

A litter of six puppies was brought into the shelter on Aug. 29 and vaccinated upon intake. At the time, the puppies appeared healthy, according to the release.

On Aug. 31, half the litter appeared to be falling ill, the release said. The sick puppies later tested positive for canine parvo, while only one of the healthy puppies tested negative for the virus. The remaining three puppies appeared healthy at the time the release was published. me, the puppies appeared healthy, according to the release.

The infected puppies’ condition “rapidly deteriorated” despite “isolation and treatment” and were euthanized over Labor Day weekend.

According to the release, a Georgia Department of Agriculture inspector performed an inspection of the shelter on Sept. 3 and imposed a two-week quarantine to “ensure the prevention of disease spread outside of the shelter.” 

Because of the shelter’s design to separate animals, the cat section of the shelter will operate under normal conditions. 

Quarantine controversy

At a Sept. 3 ACC Mayor and Commission Meeting, about 12 Athenians voiced complaints about the euthanizations, vaccinations and overall shelter management.

“Two dogs that we pulled in mid-August were not vaccinated at all for parvovirus, which is the canine equivalent of [feline] panleukopenia,” said Madison Webb, co-founder and director of Three Paws Animal Rescue Group at the meeting. Three Paws is one of the shelter’s “primary rescue partners” and historically pulls about 20 cats per month from the shelter, according to Webb.

Webb voiced her larger concerns about vaccination protocol within the shelter.

“It has damaged our relationship very heavily with the shelter. We don’t trust any proper protocols are being followed,” Webb said. “We are hoping that some major changes can be made in order for us to continue to rescue from [ACC] Animal Control. Otherwise, we have decided to stop rescuing from there entirely.” 

On Sept. 3, around 38 shelter “volunteers and other close partners” submitted a protest letter covering the “underlying problems” within the shelter. The signatories include people affiliated with Athenspets, the Athens Area Humane Society, Cat Zip Alliance/Campus Cats and Three Paws Animal Rescue.

The letter said the shelter must improve with respect to shelter operations, adequate staffing, best practices for animal care and training for staff. It also calls on ACC to reexamine its ordinances and establish a citizen’s advisory board to provide oversight for the shelter.

The shelter has come under fire for how it handled supposed feline illnesses this summer. In July, the shelter underwent a cat quarantine due to then confirmed cases of feline panleukopenia. After preliminary test results indicated two cases of FP, the shelter closed to all cat adoptions and intakes for two weeks. 

In an effort to contain the virus, the staff euthanized 31 other cats due to “probable exposure” to the infected cats, according to an Aug. 29 news release.

Following the euthanizations, one of the purportedly infected cats was sent to the UGA Diagnostic Laboratory for a necropsy. A preliminary report indicated the kitten tested “negative, but not conclusive” for FP, according to the release. The preliminary report occasionally yields false-positive and false-negative results. 

About two weeks later, a final necropsy report filed on the second cat found it was “unlikely this cat was infected with feline panleukopenia virus,” the release said. 

“In this case, there was not a protocol in place to manage this emergent event,” read the Aug. 29 release. “Staff used their best judgment with the information they had at the time to prevent the event from escalating.”

Treating the virus

The shelter staff is currently undergoing “specialized cleaning processes” to minimize the spread of the highly contagious virus, the release said. 

The virus is even more dangerous in shelters.

“Diseases such [as] parvovirus spread more easily when animals from different backgrounds [are] grouped together in a small space,” said Jeremiah T. Salaki, head of virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at UGA, in an email. “Animal shelters in general provide an environment that favors disease spread.” 

In addition to routine cleaning processes, the room where the infected puppies lived with the rest of the litter is cleaned by a single staff member, so the virus is not carried into other areas, said ACC Central Services Director David Fluck. 

Staff members will apply footbath disinfectants upon entry and exit of the kennel area to minimize the spread of the virus through staff interaction with animals, Fluck said. As an extra precaution, the staff sprayed the outdoor play area with disinfectant. 

What now?

The rest of the shelter dogs “are at low risk of infection” and had already been vaccinated for parvo, according to the release. 

Volunteers will not be allowed in the dog area until a veterinarian technician inspects the shelter and determines that volunteers can resume activities, the release said. Shelter volunteers that handled dogs on Aug. 29 were notified of a potential parvo exposure by staff. 

The shelter will not accept canine surrenders during the quarantine. Residents seeking to surrender dogs prior to Sept. 16 should contact the shelter by phone for advice, the release said.

Owner reclaims will be allowed during the quarantine, though the owner will be advised their dog had potential exposure to parvo, the release said.

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