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Pet owners are warned, canine distember reported in nearby counties closing one shelter

The reported spread of canine distemper in several S.C. counties has animal shelter officials here on high alert to ensure there is no repeat of the disastrous outbreak in 2008 that resulted in the euthanasia of more than 100 dogs.

That outbreak was before the county took over the privately operated shelter and turned it into the Horry County Animal Care Center.

“The animal care center was established keeping these kinds of diseases and issues in mind,” Kelly Bonome, operations manager, told several members of the Horry County Council this week.

All animals are vaccinated against the deadly disease and carefully examined upon entry. The shelter also follows strict procedures for disinfection, and a veterinarian is employed who is experienced in shelter care, Bonome said.

“We can’t guarantee that we won’t have it,” Bonome said. “We can tell you that we are prepared as we possibly can be to address that when the issue comes.”

Florence County has reported 11 cases of canine distemper but the shelter there will remain open, while Kershaw County has 11-14 cases and has closed the facility, Bonome said.

In Marion County, the shelter was closed because of overcrowding, and they do not have the resources to address a potential outbreak, she said.

Unconfirmed cases also have been reported in Darlington, Aiken, Lee and Lancaster counties, she said.

“We are working now to educate both our staff and the community and any suspects that come in will be tested so we can identify exactly what we’re dealing with,” Bonome said.

A canine distemper outbreak in late 2008 at the animal shelter in Horry County forced its closure, and top officials resigned after more than 100 dogs were put down, including some that already were adopted.

The first case was diagnosed by a private veterinarian in late October after the dog was brought in by a family who adopted it from the shelter, The Sun News reported at the time.

The shelter did not close until December, and the county took over the following year.

The most important thing the public can do is to make sure their dogs have been vaccinated, and are wearing identification to avoid a trip to the animal shelter.

“The goal now is to keep the shelter population down,” Bonome said.

It can take nearly one month for the vaccine to take effect, so pet owners should be wary of bringing their pets to local dog parks or other public areas where they might be exposed to the virus.

Young puppies, older animals and unvaccinated dogs are most at risk of the virus, which is airborne and contagious through sneezing or coughing and sharing food and water bowls.

The virus can spread from infected wild animals, including foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and ferrets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The symptoms in dogs include pus discharge from the eyes, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite and vomiting, the AVMA says. As the virus progress, it will affect the nervous system and cause convulsions, seizures and other movement disorders.

The virus is difficult to treat and is often fatal, the AVMA said.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

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