Virus prompts quarantine of Athens animal shelter's dog area

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

The Athens-Clarke County animal shelter



By JoeJohnson

The Athens-Clarke County animal shelter’s dog area has been placed under a two-week quarantine due to the apparent presence of a virus that was introduced to the facility by a litter of puppies that was taken in last week, the county announced in a Wednesday morning media release.

Canine parvovirus, or parvo, is a highly contagious virus that is mainly seen in puppies that cannot be vaccinated until they are six weeks old, as well as in other non-vaccinated dogs.

The quarantine comes two months after the shelter's cat area was quarantined and more than two dozen cats were euthanized in response to what was believed to have been two confirmed cases of feline panleukopenia, a fatal disease that is also known as panleuk, according to a July 10 statement by the animal shelter.

The mass killing of 34 cats created an uproar among local animal rights advocates.

The panleuk scare began in July, when the kennel director for the Athens Area Humane Society took an apparently ill kitten from the shelter to South Athens Animal Clinic, where it was diagnosed with panleuk and euthanized.

Animal Control Administrator Michelle Carrigg subsequently ordered the shelter's cat area quarantined for two weeks. Four non-vaccinated cats housed in the same room as the kitten were euthanized.    

A few days later, a second cat appeared ill and shelter staff tested the animal and received a “light” positive, which could have been due to the cat’s recent panleuk vaccination. The cat was euthanized and sent to the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Science for a necropsy.

Before she received the necropsy's results, Carrigg ordered 28 cats in the same room as the kitten and an adjoining room to be euthanized.   

The next day, the shelter received the preliminary results of the necropsy that showed the cat tested negative for the disease. Nevertheless, Carrigg issued a news release that said the shelter would not accept cats for 10 days due to “two confirmed cases” of panleuk.

Local animal rights groups and advocates blamed the unnecessary mass euthanizations on mismanagement, poor hygiene procedures and under-staffing at the shelter.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's Mayor and Commission meeting several people, including a former Animal Control employee, demanded transparency and accountability for shelter operations.

Commissioners were sympathetic to those concerns and prmised to address them.

District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said that sometimes residents bring to the commission's attention problems that require long-term solutions.

However, because Animal Control is a county department under the commission's purview, "We should be able to fix that yesterday," she said.

Thornton called on the commission's audit committee to take a look at issues and problems within Animal Control.

A video of the commission meeting can be seen here https://www.accgov.com/videos and the public comments concerning the animal shelter begins at 1:40:00.

Now, due to the apparent presence of canine parvo, only animal shelter staff will be allowed in the dog area until Sept. 16. Volunteers and visitors will not be allowed in the dog area and owner surrenders will not be allowed during this time.

Residents seeking to surrender dogs during the quarantine should contact the animal shelter by phone for advice, the county said. Owner reclaims will be allowed, although the owner will be advised of a potential exposure to parvo and to immediately contact their veterinarian if their dog starts to act ill.

Athens-Clarke County Animal Control officers will only bring dogs to the shelter that pose an immediate threat to people during the quarantine, the county said.

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Shelter staff began cleaning procedures over the weekend and are continuing to undergo specialized cleaning processes to help minimize the spread of the parvo virus. Those steps were being taken to prevent accidental exposure to the virus for dogs outside of the shelter through human contact. Due to the facility's design to separate animals, the cat area of the shelter will remain open for normal operations.

The six puppies appeared healthy when they arrived at the shelter last month. at which time , they were vaccinated, in accordance with shelter policy, the county said in its statement.

Two days after they arrived at the shelter, the county said, one of the puppies appeared very ill and two others started to appear ill.

All three animals were tested for parvo, as was one of the puppies that appeared healthy. The three puppies that appeared ill tested positive for parvo, while the one that did not appear ill tested negative. Despite isolation and treatment for their symptoms, the three puppies rapidly deteriorated due to the illness and were euthanized over the weekend, the county said. The remaining three puppies from the litter continue to appeared to be healthy.

According to the county, shelter staff consulted with the Georgia Department of Agriculture as required, as well as with another area shelter and Animal Control's oversight veterinarian since the illness appeared.

On Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture inspector performed an inspection of the shelter because the puppies had been in contact with volunteers and an outdoor interaction area before the positive test results, according to the county.

A state inspector subsequently ordered a two-week quarantine to ensure the prevention of the parvo disease spreading outside of the shelter.

All dogs currently in the quarantined portion of the shelter had already been vaccinated for parvo and are at low risk of infection.

According to the county, the shelter's oversight veterinarian has specified some specific cleaning instructions and asked that no volunteers be allowed on site until their veterinarian technician can inspect the shelter to determine if it is safe for for volunteers to return.

Shelter staff has notified volunteers who had signed into the shelter to work with dogs on Saturday to advise them of a potential parvo exposure. No dogs had been reclaimed by owners over the weekend that would necessitate notifying owners.

For more information, including updated an updated list of adoptable pets and volunteer opportunities, visit www.accgov.com/animalshelter or call 706-613-3540.

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