Georgetown's St. Frances shelter clean but still closed

Nearly two weeks after a canine distemper outbreak forced the St. Frances Animal Shelter to close, executive director Nancy Campos said the disinfection process is finished but the shelter won't reopen just yet.

"We have completed what we needed to do," she said.

The shelter will remain closed until Aug. 4 on veterinarian Todd Brown's orders to ensure there are no new outbreaks. "Just to be safe he wanted us to stay closed for three weeks," Campos said.

The Georgetown shelter closed after two distemper outbreaks occurred within weeks of each other.

Campos said the shelter was disinfected with a bleach and detergent mixture several times to kill any traces of the deadly virus.

"You do it and do it again," she said. "It's an ongoing thing."

She said the shelter is now distemper-free and hopes to stay that way.

"We're taking every precaution we can," she said.

Campos said the shelter is working with the city of Georgetown and Georgetown County animal control departments, but it is not taking animals from the public or adopting them out.

Area shelters have had problems the past couple years with distemper, a sometimes fatal canine virus transmitted through the air that can have symptoms similar to an upper respiratory infection.

The Grand Strand Humane Society and the Horry County Humane Society both closed temporarily during the winter of 2009 due to distemper.

The Horry County Humane Society shelter was taken over by Horry County in July 2009, partly because of the distemper outbreak.

Representatives from both the Grand Strand Humane Society and the Horry County Animal Care Center said the shelters have had no problems this summer.

"We have had no signs of distemper," said Cara Gibbs, the marketing manager for the humane society. "Since we had our first outbreak here we've been very, very careful," she said. "We follow very strict procedures on intake."

Campos said people from the Horry County Animal Care Center offered to help St. Frances since they had dealt with distemper before.

"They came out and helped us do some disinfecting," she said. "We really appreciated the support."

Kelly Bonome, the operations manager for the animal care center, said strict procedures have reduced the risk of distemper in that shelter.

"Our staff has gone through an intensive training program," Bonome said.

She said all the animals are checked out as they are unloaded, and at the first sign of any illness the animal is placed into isolation to prevent infection the other animals.

"They're put into isolation pretty regularly," she said. "Rather be safe than sorry."

St. Frances, the humane society and the animal care center all offer distemper vaccinations to the public for around $10, but Campos said people aren't aware enough of distemper to vaccinate for it.

"This can all be prevented if everyone vaccinates [their] animals," she said.