The Distemper Epidemic
Posted by Admin Date January 23, 2015 Retroactive Update Posted July 16, 2015
When we rescued dogs from the City Pound, we knew that we had to keep them separated from the other dogs. After all, they might have all manner of contagious diseases.

What we didn't know, is that we also needed to keep the rescued dogs separated from each other.

Eventually, we realized that one or more of the dogs we rescued was a carrier of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and actively shedding the virus. We don't know who it was. Soon enough, one by one the dogs started testing positive for CDV.

Canine Distemper Test showing positive result (positive means the dog probably has CDV).

Four of the eight dogs we rescued from the City Pound died within a month of their arriving at the shelter, three of them from CDV. It was a difficult and traumatic time for everyone, especially the afflicted dogs, who went through what can only be described as a living hell. CDV is a cruel, cruel disease. CDV is transmitted through the air (as well as urine and feces). We immediately transferred all dogs with CDV to an adjacent lot called the Annex, and instituted a program of hand-washing for anyone coming from the annex. We also bought a separate set of food and water bowls.

CDV is an airborne disease, so we boarded up the fence between the quarantine area and the dog area.

Lola and Pretty both had poor appetites when they arrived, and Lola's eyes were encrusted with pus. Street dogs often have weakened immune systems due to prolonged malnutrition, so we didn't think much of it.

Lola and Pretty shortly after coming to the shelter.

We fed Lola as much yummy food as she would eat, such as boneless pork chops. (She has come to expect this and still gets a daily bowl of diced pork chops to this day.) Pretty wouldn't even eat pork chops. She was extremely emaciated. Here you can see how skinny she was when she arrived.

Pretty was emaciated when she arrived from the pound, and sadly never gained any weight

Because she was so thin, it was imperative for Pretty to gain sustenance if not weight, so we force-fed her Recovery with a syringe. She didn't like this, so we had to tie her up and squeeze the food through a tube passed between the gaps in her teeth. Both our regular staff (Jack and Marife) demonstrated extraordinary fortitude in feeding Pretty regularly in this manner for more than three weeks.

Nice Guy, who had initially been eating normally, stopped eating and, instead of staying in the kennel, curled up in the dirt in a corner. No matter how many times we put him back on a towel in the kennel, he always went back to his patch of dirt. And he kept losing weight.

Nice Guy about a week after his appetite dropped dramatically.

He then started showing the most terrifying symptom of distemper: seizures. At first, it was just mild twitching which you wouldn't even notice if you weren't paying attention. But the twitching kept getting worse. We kept hoping that he'd get better, but once the seizures start, the dog is on a railroad to hell and there is no stopping the train.

We kept force-feeding Nice Guy Recovery with a syringe, but usually he'd vomit it up, due to the seizures. Nice Guy was put on barbiturates called Phenytoin, to lessen the seizures so that he wouldn't vomit his food, but even at the maximum dosage, they didn't help much.

Eventually Nice Guy's seizures got so bad he couldn't stand or sit anymore. He'd be lying on the ground with uncontrollable spasms, whimpering occasionally. We didn't know it then, but at this point he was in terrible pain.

On the morning of the 17th of January, we came to the shelter to find that Nice Guy had been having seizures throughout the night, digging a shallow disc-shaped hole with his body. It is one of the most horrible sights any of us had ever seen.

The circle of hell: Nice Guy had been 'paddling' throughout the night with his arms, going around and around in circles.

We asked the vet to come over ASAP. The vet arrived after a couple of hours and confirmed that Nice Guy was in a lot of pain and that it was time to put him down. It was a difficult decision for Ken to make because the Happy Animals Club is billed as a "no-kill" shelter, and Nice Guy was such a nice dog. Ken agreed to go ahead with the euthanasia when the vet told him, "If he were my pet, I would put him down, to make him more comfortable."

Here is Nice Guy a few hours before he died in Ken's arms.

Nice Guy while we were waiting for the vet to arrive. Ken was in tears and declined to be in the photo.

We dug a grave for Nice Guy next to Dipper.

Nice Guy in his grave.

Later that night, Pretty suddenly collapsed. According to Ken, who was with her at the time, she grimaced all of a sudden, and then toppled over, without making a sound. When we checked, she was already dead. The vet later said the grimacing was due to the facial muscles going slack.

Pretty a few moments after passing away.

Bear had died of renal failure earlier in the morning. On January 17, 2015, we lost three dogs within the space of 24 hours. It was devastating for Ken and his staff, and even more so for the dogs who went through a horrible torture they didn't deserve.

Pretty's funeral, around 9:00 PM on January 17th, the third funeral that day.

Eventually, Cappy, who had previously tested negative for CDV, also tested positive, bringing the CDV toll to three.

The only good news is that Lola and Boxster, who both tested positive, survived, and none of the original residents of the Happy Animals Club contracted CDV. Miraculously, even though Lola was pregnant while going through CDV, none of her puppies were stillborn or underweight, and none of them got CDV.

While at the City Pound, all the dogs we rescued were crammed together in one small holding cage, and had been that way for three days. Still, we don't know if the cross-contamination took place while the dogs were at the pound, or after they arrived at the shelter. The incubation period of the virus is 18 days, and the dogs that died all started getting sick in early January. The conditions at the City Pound - lack of food, repeated hosing with cold water, extreme stress - certainly made them more susceptible to infection, but we don't know what would have happened had we kept the dogs apart right after rescuing them. We have put further rescues from the pound on hold until we have the facilities to keep them quarantined not just from existing residents, but also from each other.

Please make sure your dogs are vaccinated against Canine Distemper Virus. It is a terrible, cruel disease - perhaps even more terrible than rabies, because it drags out the suffering.

Tags cdv, nice guy, lola, pretty, boxster, cappy, dipper

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