Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SHELTER VIRUS IDENTIFIED, PLAN MAY SAVE DOGS

Article By Mandy Catoe

May 24, 2017

The mystery disease at the Lancaster County Animal Shelter has been identified as distemper, and there’s a plan in the works that might avoid euthanizing any of the 25 quarantined dogs on the premises.

The shelter remains closed, and a team effort is under way to save the dogs. Shelter staff and volunteers are working with local veterinarians, the S.C. Humane Society, the Charleston County Animal Society, and the Lancaster Area Shelter Supporters (LASS) on a plan to permanently relocate the dogs. At this point, it has spots for 18 of the animals.
"Distemper has run rampant out there, and we have done everything we know to do to save the animals," said County Administrator Steve Willis. "I want to thank Public Works Director Jeff Catoe, shelter Director Alan Williams, and LASS."
The shelter will reopen once cleaning, sanitation and painting have been completed and the two dozen quarantined dogs have a home, Williams said. The county hopes to reopen the shelter this Friday or next Monday, he said.
"We tested every dog we have yesterday (Monday)," he said. "We should know the results by Thursday."
Williams reached out to Kim Kelly, director of the S.C. Chapter of the U.S. Humane Society, when the first dog showed symptoms. Kelly referred Williams to veterinary specialist Dr. Cynda Crawford at the University of Florida.
Crawford began advising him on veterinary protocol a few weeks ago.
"Additional testing by Dr. Crawford found some additional cases of distemper, but a number were with extremely low virus counts," Willis said. "That shows the vaccinations and antibiotics that have been administered are working."
The county has placement commitments for 15 dogs so far, Willis said. The S.C. Humane Society is taking 10 low-virus dogs until they are virus free and Charleston County will house five, Willis said.
Kelly said the Humane Society wants to give the dogs a chance. She praised the county and shelter staff Williams and Carissa Valenti for their efforts at extending the life of these dogs.
"This illness doesn't have to be fatal," she said.
The Charleston County Animal Society expressed its support in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon.
"It used to be that if there was a suspected disease outbreak in a shelter, all the animals would be euthanized, no questions asked," said Abigail Kamleitner. "So we definitely wanted to help Alan and his team at the Lancaster shelter when they went the more difficult route to save lives instead."
She said they were happy to offer a safe place where these dogs can be quarantined and eventually adopted.
On Tuesday afternoon, Williams said about seven dogs still need a place to go.
If tests come back negative for distemper, they can go to rescue groups, but if positive they can be adopted and quarantined by someone with no other dogs, he said.
LASS member Diane Rashall said her group is waiting to see if their help is needed to find one- or two-month homes for dogs that test positive.
The current crisis is due in part to the shelter being so small, with only 24 runs, and a rise in distemper cases throughout the Upstate, Willis said.
The county shelter does not have enough space to quarantine animals.
Moving forward, the shelter will no longer double up the runs, preventing contact between the dogs. It also will reduce the number of dogs housed at the shelter, which unfortunately will result in a higher euthanasia rate, Willis said.
The county will follow medical advice on the remaining dogs, and ”euthanasia is still a possibility," he said. 
Councilman Larry Honeycutt expressed the council's commitment to building a new shelter in 2018. 
"We are going to be able to house more than 24 dogs in a state-of-the-art shelter, and next time we have a breakout of something like this, we won't have to send our animals all over the country," Honeycutt said."We will be able to take care of them right here."
The ordeal has resulted in the county removing the dogs from the shelter as they cleaned, sanitized and painted. Shelter staff set up 20 temporary kennels about a quarter mile away in a clearing in the woods. Tarps cover the kennels, but the rain provides new challenges as they continue to care for the dogs. 
"I want to commend Alan, as I don’t know of many small shelters that would have spent the time and resources he has to try and save these animals," Willis said.
UPDATE ON CATS: LASS RESCUED 32 CATS AND PLACED WITH FOSTERS, BUT THERE ARE NOW MORE KITTENS AND CATS THAT NEED 2-3 WEEK FOSTERS. CALL THE ANIMAL SHELTER 803-286-8103 OR CONTACT NADINE DAY AT 702-897-6569 OR NCDAY1824@HOTMAIL.COM. 
Follow Reporter Mandy Catoe on Twitter @MandyCatoeTLN or
contact her at (803) 283-1152.