Canine virus closes Georgetown shelter

The St. Frances Animal Center in Georgetown is closed for at least three weeks after tests confirmed canine distemper virus has infected a small number of animals there, according to a news release from the shelter issued Wednesday.

It is the second illness outbreak at the shelter this month.

Last week, officials at the shelter said they suspended adoptions and temporarily halted animal intake and surgery because of an outbreak of an infectious upper respiratory disease, officials announced July 8 in a news release.

A large number of unvaccinated animals are brought to the shelter, and the summer's heat makes it easier for diseases to spread, according to the statement. All of the shelter's animal intake, surgeries, adoptions and medical care will be closed to the public to limit exposure to the community, said Nancy Campos, the center's executive director.

Quarantine procedures are being implemented to identify protected animals and those that are infected, and extra decontamination procedures, disinfection and isolation measures are being imposed to neutralize the virus, said Todd C. Brown, a veterinarian working with the center.

Shelter officials contacted Cynda Crawford, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, for guidance in handling the outbreak. Crawford also leads Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, which has pledged support to aid in cleanup.

"With her protocols, we are confident that we can contain the virus from the healthy, well-vaccinated pets, which make up the majority of the animals at the facility and once again continue to adopt these pets out to the public," Brown said. "This tragedy pushes the importance of vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and veterinary care to the spotlight. Distemper vaccinations are very effective at eliminating a dog's risk of contracting distemper. This virus did not originate at the shelter but instead was introduced from stray, unvaccinated pets brought in from rural Georgetown County."

Shelter officials announced July 8 that the shelter had suspended adoptions and temporarily halted animal intake and surgery because of an outbreak of an infectious upper-respiratory disease.