After two weeks of voluntary quarantine due to canine distemper, the Liberty Humane Shelter plans to reopen Thursday.
The shelter closed to the public Jan. 5 after one of its dogs, a brindle-colored terrier mix, began showing signs of canine distemper, according to director Sandra Frye.
“We’ve been very lucky, and we’re already through the time that is the most worrisome,” Frye said Monday about keeping a watchful eye on the other animals.
Frye said the shelter received the dog from Liberty County Animal Control on Dec. 30, and they noticed Jan. 2 that something was wrong with it.
That’s when they called in Dr. Rachel Peeples of Liberty Veterinary Clinic, who went to check on the animals the following day.
While Peeples did not confirm that the animal had distemper through laboratory tests, she said its symptoms were consistent with the illness.
While the dog ultimately had to be euthanized, Frye said she and Peeples checked the shelter’s other 19 canines suspicious symptoms and placed them all on antibiotics to prevent the spread of any potential problems.
“We had a couple that looked like they didn’t feel well, and it turned out to be kennel cough, which is much less severe,” Frye said.
She also worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates such shelters, and took the USDA’s direction when deciding to close temporarily.
“I have heard of shelters that have gotten distemper and it killed everyone, every canine they had, it just wipes the whole shelter out — and that just freaks me out,” she said. “We do everything we can to try to protect our animals.”
“The bad thing about distemper is, … when a dog sneezes, the droplets can travel 30 feet, so when the puppy would sneeze, it had the potential to reach up to 30 feet, so we basically cleaned from top to bottom,” she added.
“It has the nasty discharge nose, and … it can cause neurological effects, and … you hate for a dog to get distemper, because it may not actually kill it now, and it may cause long-term effects for a dog.”
No animal had been moved into the area where the infected dog was held at press time, but Frye said that staff has cleaned the space with bleach multiple times to kill any remaining viral cells.
Staffers also took precaution to wear gowns over their clothing when working with the dog or in the area it may have infected, because the virus is hearty enough to survive in clothing for a short time, which makes it possible for humans to transmit it from one dog to another.
Frye said she’s happy to report that the rest of the animals in the facility are “nice and healthy,” but she hopes the scare serves to educate others.
“Other people need to realize that this may be a problem …,” Frye said. “Because the quicker you catch it, the better off the animal is going to be, you may possibly be able to save it.”
Peeples said she has not seen any cases of distemper in her clinic in the six years she has been in Hinesville, but this is the second suspected case in the same time frame to come through animal control.
She does not believe this suspected case poses a risk to those who have pets at home, but rather should act as a reminder to stay on top of vaccinations.