Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lancaster Country Shelter Remains Shut Down

Not all facts are correct. Fifteen dogs have died or been euthanized not four. 
Floors are being scraped and re-coated. Air handler system not worked on yet. 
- Diane Rashall

Article Courtesy of Mandy Catoe
Sunday, May 14, 2017

Alan Williams: ‘I am not – I am not – making that decision. It will come from someone above me’

By Mandy Catoe
Sunday, May 14, 2017 

Alan Williams, director of the Lancaster County Animal Shelter, squatted beside one of the temporary pens holding the 25 quarantined animals under his care.
He shook his head as he talked about the dog inside, one of two that came to the shelter three months ago after a drug bust left them homeless. They were emaciated, dehydrated and full of parasites. Williams and his assistant nursed them back to health.
The dog wagged his tail wildly at the sight of his caretaker.
“This is a good dog,” said Williams. “There is no reason it should have to die.”
A life-and-death decision will have to be made soon at the shelter, which was shut down this week because of an uncontrolled, unspecified respiratory virus that has persisted for three weeks.
After moving out the dogs and disinfecting the facility, officials must decide whether to return the animals. They might still be carrying the virus, and that could start the contamination all over again.
Williams, who has run the county-owned shelter for 10 months, is exhausted.
“I’ve been working seven days a week, from sunup till sundown” since the infection was discovered, he said.

<div class="source">MANDY CATOE/The Lancaster News</div><div class="image-desc">This healthy dog arrived at the shelter three months ago, emaciated and filled with parasites. The shelter staff nursed it back to health.</div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/60723">Buy this photo</a></div>
MANDY CATOE/The Lancaster News
This healthy dog arrived at the shelter three months ago, emaciated and filled with parasites. The shelter staff nursed it back to health.

‘Hardest decision’
Humans are not affected by the virus, and the shelter’s 25 cats are not involved in the outbreak. They live in a separate enclosure not infected with the virus.

Williams took a reporter to see the quarantined dogs this week.

He drove down a long gravel road, deep into the woods behind the shelter to a clearing where 20 temporary kennels were spread out. Tarps blocked the evening sun, and trees provided morning shade.

The dogs jumped and barked for attention, wanting to play. None of them appeared obviously sick.
“The hardest decision will be what to do with these 25 dogs,” Williams said. “Several veterinarians have said not to let them return to the shelter because they may still have the virus and possibly spread it. That don’t mean all of them are sick, but they may carry it.”
Some told the county to “eliminate the problem,” Williams said, but the staff is doing everything possible to avoid that.
“I don’t know what will be done,” he said. “I am not – I am not – making that decision. It will come from someone above me.”
Two options exist. One is euthanasia. The other is to keep the dogs quarantined until enough time passes to be sure they are disease-free.

The first option is easy and extreme, and Williams is resisting it.
Keeping the dogs alive would require painstaking, time-consuming work for an undetermined amount of time, but at least two more weeks. Every time staffers fed the dogs or cleaned the temporary kennels, they would have to disinfect their own bodies and change into clean clothes before going into the animal shelter. That would be difficult for a facility with just two full-time employees and one part-timer.
The decision hinges on the advice from veterinarians and specialists who are analyzing results from an autopsy completed Thursday.

Shelter too small
The respiratory virus that forced the shutdown highlights the Lancaster shelter’s biggest shortcoming – it’s too small.
Larger shelters are able to contain and isolate infected dogs without having to orchestrate the measures taken by Lancaster’s shelter, according to Williams.
“When a facility with 100 runs has an outbreak, they can quarantine within the shelter itself,” Williams said. “We are just too small.”
Lancaster’s shelter has just 24 dog runs, often doubled-up because of overcrowding.
Three weeks into the outbreak, the shelter still does not know what the virus is. Distemper, a common respiratory illness, is a possibility.
In the beginning, just a few dogs were exhibiting symptoms.
The mystery was complicated because the first dog that got sick was weakened with heartworms and had little strength to fight any additional illness. Test results came back inconclusive, but indicated the dog had an unidentified, secondary disease.
“We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Williams said.
The shelter has been consulting various veterinarians, experts at the Clemson Extension Service, and a specialist, Dr. Cynda Crawford at the University of Florida.

4 fatalities so far
Four dogs have died, according to County Administrator Steve Willis.
“Of the four dogs that have died, only one has tested positive for distemper,” Willis said. “All were positive with a respiratory disease.”
Willis said it is possible that the dog that tested positive came in with distemper rather than catching it at the shelter.
“It can take a few weeks for symptoms to show up,” Willis said.
Two weeks ago, with the disease spreading, the staff quarantined the 25 sheltered dogs and administered antibiotics to those exhibiting symptoms.
The shelter borrowed an enclosed kennel trailer and cages from Sandy Crest, Chesterfield County’s shelter. Rescue groups offered some relief, but the fear of spreading the disease to their dogs kept many away.
The shelter hired ServPro, professional cleaners, to sanitize and fumigate the facility. They sealed the cracked floors and applied an epoxy coating. Cleaning and sanitizing should be completed this week, at a cost of about $600.
Repairing and sealing the cracked floors was the most expensive fix. It cost $11,000. County council gave the nod to go ahead and will pick up the tab, Willis said.
Council members had hoped to avoid extra costs on the old shelter, since the plan is to build a new one in 2018.
“If something like this happens again, the county will have a quarantine unit, totally separate from the shelter, at their disposal,” Willis said.

Reopening shelter
This week, the shelter’s desks, tables, bulletin boards, trash cans and shelves were spread out in the parking lot, covered with tarps. Phones and computers were not hooked up. The dog runs were empty, but the floors were clean, shiny and sealed.
Williams said he hopes to reopen the office and restock storage areas in the next week. The kennels, since they have been animal-free for two weeks, should be germ-free and safe.
Until the shelter reopens, Sandy Crest will accept any dogs picked up by animal control.
Williams said the shelter should reopen this week for new animals. The fate of the 25 quarantined dogs remains undecided. The analysis of the autopsy results should be in by Monday.
“If at all possible, we will keep non-symptomatic animals, continue the antibiotic regime and bring them back in to the shelter,” Willis said. “But, if the vets say the only way to stop the contagion is to euthanize, then our hands are tied and we would have to euthanize.”

<div class="source">MANDY CATOE/The Lancaster News</div><div class="image-desc">The healthy dog at left was skin and bones (next photo) on the day she arrived at the shelter following a drug bust. She is one of the dogs currently quarantined.</div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/60724">Buy this photo</a></div>
<div class="source">PHOTO SUPPLIED</div><div class="image-desc">The healthy dog in the previous photo was skin and bones on the day she arrived at the shelter following a drug bust. She is one of the dogs currently quarantined.</div><div class="buy-pic"></div>The healthy dog at left was skin and bones (next photo) on the day she arrived at the shelter following a drug bust. She is one of the dogs currently quarantined.

Follow Reporter Mandy Catoe on Twitter @MandyCatoeTLN or contact her at (803) 283-1152.