The four remaining distemper-positive dogs at the Waco Animal Shelter must find medical foster or rescue by Saturday, the date set for a difficult decision on their fate following months of quarantine due to the virus’ deadly outbreak in October.
Animal welfare officials agree cleaning the kennels of distemper’s final traces could be the final step toward fully reopening, with new protocols in place to ensure prolonged wellness.
The Humane Society of Central Texas, which handles adoptions for the city-run shelter, was cleared Tuesday to resume adoptions of the remaining animals from the shelter. Also Tuesday, the shelter resumed a small volume of intake only from city animal control units, while over-the-counter surrenders are still closed to the public.
“We have limitedly opened to animal control intake at this time,” said Melissa Sheldon, animal services director for the city of Waco. “We are monitoring the rate of disease transmission, our capacity for care and our new processes. With no new cases and no pressure points to our processes, we can safely open to the public for intake.”
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It was found during a November visit from American Pets Alive!, a national organization that provides shelters with best practices during crisis, that animals brought into the shelter could wait three to five days before a first vaccination, though the city has an ordinance requiring same-day vaccination of impounded animals. It is likely the failure to vaccinate in a timely manner — which the report attributed to workflow issues, overcrowding and tight staffing — fueled the outbreak. Yet a report from a Dec. 22 follow-up site visit points to a brighter future.
The follow-up visit found adherence to many of the original recommendations made, including a suitable vaccination procedure, proper hygienic practices and incorporation of animal control officers into the intake procedure. Bringing in animal control officers for the start of the process is intended to reduce the time animals wait for vaccination and reduce strain on the understaffed shelter crew.
“We have provided sanitation and cleaning areas for partner city animal control vehicles as well as new entry points for potential wildlife cases,” Sheldon said. “We have also asked our partner animal control agencies to help us shorten the interval on when animals receive vaccinations by vaccinating on arrival. This will help animals develop herd immunity faster and better protect the animals.”
Sheldon said the shelter is also partnering with the Humane Society to offer low-cost vaccine clinics to the public, with dates to be determined.
The Humane Society has been in weekly meetings with the city, said Patricia Meadows, Humane Society of Central Texas board president. She said the team agrees that vaccination upon arrival is the key to combating disease.
“Citizens need to be informed that vaccinating their pets will help control the disease outbreaks,” Meadows said. “If we work together as one, we can start to reverse the cycle of illness and homeless animals. This benefits not only the shelter, but our entire community.”
The report on the follow-up visit to the shelter says many of the dogs had not been allowed outside of their kennels for several weeks or months due to fears of illness transmission. It also says Waco’s shelter design is mainly open concept, lacking solid barriers between kennels, and allows for direct pathogen transmission.
“In other words, more germs are being transferred between dogs locked in humid indoor kennel runs vs. between dogs walked in areas with fresh, open air,” the report says.
American Pets Alive! also observed long-term confinement without basic enrichment, resulting in kennel neurosis marked by “excessive spinning, body-slamming in to walls (and) high barrier reactivity.” Thankfully, kennel neurosis is a normal response and mental health can be restored through future enrichment, according to the report.
With a full reopening on the horizon and conditions mostly clear, the Humane Society is tasked with finding homes for the final four distemper-positive dogs. If Gumby, a shepherd mix; Autumn, a pit mix; Johnny Walker, a pit mix; and Thesis, a cattle dog mix, do not find medical fosters or homes by Saturday, they face a tough decision after a tough battle with the virus.
Anyone who is able to completely isolate a pet from others and is willing to foster one of the four dogs should contact the Humane Society of Central Texas as soon as possible at 254-754-1454. The Humane Society may supply all pet supplies free of charge.