BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Canine parvovirus is common in animal shelters, and many factors contribute to outbreaks, including many unvaccinated dogs that are brought in, according to Dr. Becky DeBolt, University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine assistant clinical professor of shelter medicine.
DeBolt, along with a veterinary assistant and four students from the college, visited the Sullivan County Animal Shelter in Blountville on Tuesday, which remains closed due to confirmed parvo cases, to train employees on proper cleaning procedures to prevent the spread of the virus. This is the second time the shelter has closed due to parvo in less than two months.
The shelter closed last Wednesday and may reopen today, according to Peter Hanson, the shelter’s interim manager. As of Tuesday morning, he said nine dogs tested positive for the virus, and of those, four died and three were euthanized. Two of the dogs were adopted then diagnosed.
“Our goal of coming over today was to take a look at the shelter — see what’s been going on, get a full scope of where the parvo came in … if it’s been harboring in the shelter,” DeBolt said. “Our biggest goal today is to talk to them about cleaning protocols and how we can try to minimize the frequency of parvo.”
Vaccinating dogs as soon as they come in is important, but vaccinating those that already have parvo won’t do any good, she said. The virus isn’t easily recognizable, especially when symptoms are mild or mimic gastrointestinal upset due to intestinal parasites or stress, she said.
Symptoms of the virus include loss of appetite, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating and fever or low body temperature. It is highly contagious and can be fatal if treatment isn’t sought immediately, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. It is spread by contact between dogs or through contaminated feces, surfaces, objects or people’s hands and clothing that have touched infected dogs.
DeBolt said treatment is costly and isn’t always effective.
“The shelter is going to continue taking in animals with parvo until we have fully vaccinated dogs in our communities,” she said. “It’s always going to crop up and, for lack of a better word, breed in the shelter and thrive in the shelter because of the density of animals in contact with one another, but so much of it is a reflection of what’s going on in the community, and they [shelter staff] are just suffering the consequence of what they’re taking in.”
The community can help by vaccinating animals to prevent the spread of diseases, like parvo; spay and neuter animals to control the population so there isn’t a constant influx of animals taken to shelters; adopt animals as quickly as possible so they’re less likely to get sick; and rehome animals on their own as much as possible, DeBolt said.
“Right now, the shelter’s in a tough spot with transition from county to private board of directors and stuff and changing over their main director — the director of the shelter,” DeBolt said. “There isn’t one person to really go through and try to set up instructions and hand out instructions. And knowing that they’ve had a few bouts of this sort of indicates that there’s probably some breakdown in the daily maintenance [cleaning] in the shelter.”
The Animal Shelter of Sullivan County is a nonprofit organization that will take over operations of the shelter from the county, which has been in charge since Jan. 1, 2018. But it’s not clear when. County Mayor Richard Venable said Monday the first step in the transition of operations was supposed to be with a permanent manager at the helm, but Terry Johnson, the man the board’s Executive Committee hired in late May, quit on his first day last week.
And Hanson told the Bristol Herald Courier on Tuesday that his last day is Saturday.
DeBolt said the low number of staff members to clean kennels, which is two people right now, and a lack of resources also contribute to the problem. The community needs to understand that shelter employees don’t have a lot of time every day to spend with each animal, so volunteer and foster home support is important, as long as those who go in the shelter abide by rules to limit the spread of disease, she said.
“Our biggest community goal, I would say, is to keep the animals out and then to help fundraise and to help the shelter in other ways,” DeBolt said.
Two things the shelter should be doing are using proper disinfectants daily that kill any parvo that’s present and clean kennels every time animals are moved, she said. Hanson told DeBolt the staff routinely uses a disinfectant called Halt and uses Rescue when there are confirmed cases of parvo in the shelter. DeBolt said the label on Halt claims it kills parvo, but it actually doesn’t, and staff at many animal shelters don’t realize that.
“Deep cleaning,” meaning more than a daily routine scrub and spray technique, with proper disinfectants such as Rescue, Trifectant and Wysiwash, as much as possible is ideal, but it isn’t an easy reality due to a constant influx of animals and their requirement of more time and money, DeBolt said.
Having the dogs out of their kennels as often as possible during the day to prevent a buildup of feces that they can track around, as well as scrubbing kennels with detergent then rinsing them well and letting a disinfectant sit on the surfaces for as long as recommended before rinsing again, is also ideal, according to DeBolt. She also recommended the staff keep some kennels empty because, if every kennel is full, there is nowhere to put dogs while kennels are properly cleaned.
“Hopefully, the public will understand that — that we’re trying to keep the animals safe even if it’s an inconvenience to the public to have to hold onto an animal for a little bit longer,” she said.
Training and implementation enforcement will be an ongoing process, and DeBolt said she’ll continue to work with the shelter staff.