Rise in contagious, deadly dog disease

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Among the hundreds of animals at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, two black puppies sit in metal cages.

"No, I never found an owner," said Animal Cruelty Investigator Sergeant Suzanne Dannelevitz. 

Dannelevitz brought the puppies among a litter, with their mother, to the shelter.  The mother was showing symptoms of the deadly viral disease, Parvo.

"Puppies are very, very susceptible to it," Dannelevitz said.

After being tested, the mother dog was found to be positive for Parvo.  She was euthanized. The puppies, miraculously, are healthy and being adopted. Many dogs are not as lucky.

The viral disease is preventable with proper vaccinations, but Lead Veterinarian Dr. Gloria Livadas has seen more cases of Parvo recently.

"They are very weak, dehydrated and pale," she said.

Livadas also believes they are in pain.

"The virus attacks the cells in the intestines, so there is a lot of bleeding," she said.

In all of 2011, Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control diagnosed 80 cases of Parvo. So far, in 2012, more than 100 cases have been diagnosed.  When an animal is deceased, they are not tested, so Director Dianne Sauve says, it is not a perfect statistic.

"We had twelve dogs come in just recently, in a one-day period, all with Parvo. And not the same cases. Not the same owner," Sauve said.

It costs hundreds of taxpayer dollars to treat, disinfect and often, humanely euthanize the sickest of dogs. 

"We cannot risk the sometimes 600 animals that are here on site to save a couple of animals," she said.

An outdoor overnight receiving area is meant to house lost animals found by members of the community.  Often, when dogs are dropped off, their home of origin is not clear to Animal Care and Control. If a dog is infected with Parvo, they have exposed any other animal housed in the tight space of the drop-off unit.

"Sometimes we will have to come in and this night drop will be full of sick puppies." 

Worse, at times, the facility finds animals who are already dead in the overnight drop area.

If dogs are brought into the facility with Parvo, the staff must take time to carefully disinfect the clinic so as not to spread the extremely contagious disease.

"We literally have to backtrack and become the Sherlock Holmes of the disease, and backtrack from our clinic to our lobby, to the parking lot, to where the car was parked, to make sure that we bleach and disinfect every area that the animal has been if it walked into our shelter," Sauve said.

The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through proper vaccinations. Lower-cost vaccines are available under some circumstances at Animal Care and Control. Regular veterinary visits are essential to the health of animals and those they come in contact with.

"These animals deserve to have private veterinary care," said Sauve.

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