Commissioners get distemper update

By ED HOWELL
Posted 12/7/18

Kay Farley, the head of the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center, told the Walker County Commission on Monday that testing of animals for distemper is going on each week and animals are being …

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Commissioners get distemper update

Posted

Kay Farley, the head of the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center, told the Walker County Commission on Monday that testing of animals for distemper is going on each week and animals are being cleared out each week. 

Farley gave a report in the wake of an outbreak that has affected both the county and city shelters. 

RUFF (Rescuers United for Furbabies), a local non-profit animal welfare organization, along with shelter staff and volunteers, are handling the testing, while a university in Wisconsin is doing the lab work. 

Once each animals tests for two negative test results, they are pulled from foster placement, she said. 

As of Monday, 68 animals were left in the shelter, Farley said after the meeting. 

"Everything is running really well. We've got a routine. We've got a system. Everyone is pulling together," she said.

County Administrator Robbie Dickerson said after the meeting, "They test on Sunday, you send it out and you have your results by Tuesday."

"We're eventually clearing out the dogs in the facility so we can do a deep cleaning and makeover, so to speak," Farley told commissioners at the meeting. 

Officials emphasized the distemper outbreak has been countywide and has also affected the Jasper shelter.  Both animal shelters are on an intake and adoption freeze until further notice.

Farley received notification on Nov. 7 of a confirmed case of distemper from one of the adopted dogs. Farley closed the shelter and contacted the commission office, according to a release from Dickerson. 

Veterinarians say canine distemper is airborne and can also be caught by an infected dog sharing space with an otherwise healthy dog.

According to Dickerson, Farley reached out to Kara Jones, the co-founder of RUFF, which provided guidelines for testing, cleaning and handling the outbreak. Four days after the notification, shelter staff, volunteers and RUFF volunteers had all the kennels tagged. They also completed blood and swab tests on each dog. 

"Due to a positive working relation with RUFF, they reached out to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine for their guidance," Dickerson said in the release. "This working relationship lead to full grant funding by the school to not only supply all the tests needed but to process all tests at their cost. The university, along with RUFF, continues to communicate weekly with Kay with test results and which dogs are cleared to be fostered by RUFF.

"Weekly testing will continue until the dog population is zero. At that time, a sanitation process will begin. Once this is completed, the shelter will reopen to the public. The target goal is the first week of January 2019."   

Several new precautionary procedures are being looked at to handle the situation in the future intake of animals, such as more spacing between the kennels. 

"RUFF is working with Kay and the Commission Office on a positive receiving procedure, along with at-cost vaccinations, to help insure the intake of dogs will have vaccinations for a healthier environment," Dickerson said. 

"The key to any outbreak is vaccinations," Farley told the commission Monday, echoing advice given by veterinarians.

Dickerson told the commission Farley's relationship with Jones and RUFF has been instrumental in attacking the problem. 

"Kay has taken a 120 percent leadership role in this. She has immediately done everything that she could do correctly," she said. 

RUFF has repeatedly been on conference calls with Jones and Farley and has provided all the county needed. 

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said, "Mr. Chairman, you know there is a lot of hard work being done at the shelter right now, not only by the staff and by Kay, but by RUFF, which is a great organization. I make a point to donate to them every year because of the work they do in our county." 

He said problems like this just happen in life and one can only work through it and try to prevent it in the future.

Chairman Jerry Bishop said some type of recognition should be given to the officials working on the problem. 

He said county officials have also put in cameras and gates to help with some of the local animal problems, alluding to the fact that the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center is located at the entrance to the Walker County Solid Waste Department.

"We have a problem with people dropping these animals off over the weekends and at night," he said. 

Bishop said that working on the problem will mean dipping into the budget. 

"We'll have to put them in a segregated area and take care of them. It is going to cost money," he said. "We can do it. We're working on the security. We've come a long way on it. They will actually walk through the woods. If the gate is locked going to the landfill, they will walk through the woods and dump them over a fence." 

"And see, that dog could be infected," Davis added. "So then you have a whole shelter infected." 

Bishop said he is visiting the shelter twice a week, and he is satisfied with the response. 

"It's a countywide thing. We can't blame anyone," he said. "Most people want to get rid of puppies, and they are more susceptible to anything."