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Friday, March 25, 2011

Distemper at the Shelter

I haven’t written anything for a couple of days, and this is why.  Yesterday was a terrible day, and leading up to it were a couple of terrible weeks. 
I have mentioned that I volunteer at a local animal shelter.  We are a “no-kill” shelter.  But yesterday we had to make two exceptions to that rule:  two little dachshund mixes named Hans and Franz.
This is what happened.  Hans and Franz were two of the four dogs I mentioned in a previous post (February 28).  We took them in from another rescue group that couldn’t keep them.  Initially, our main concern about these guys was they were too afraid of people to be adoptable.  But before long, they started coming around.  Instead of hiding, they started coming out to watch the goings-on at the shelter.  They started coming up to us, if we were patient and waited for them to approach.  Then they started actually wanting human attention.  So things were looking good for them. 
Then a dog we took in from another facility started showing symptoms of distemper.  Lab tests confirmed it.  By then virtually every dog in the facility had been exposed to this deadly virus.  Distemper is devastating.  There is no cure and no treatment, and it is highly contagious.  I’ve learned a lot about it in the past couple of weeks.  It attacks the respiratory system, then the digestive system, and finally the brain.  Two of the dachshunds, Hans and Franz, came down with the disease.  We did all we could for them and hoped for the best.  In spite of everything, they wasted away before our eyes.  The veterinarian recommended euthanasia.  In misguided hope, we kept trying for two more days.  Finally, yesterday, we made the very difficult decision to have them put down.  I went for a long drive and cried a lot. 
Distemper is the grim reaper that every shelter dreads.  Until now our little humane society has been extremely lucky.  In over 30 years of operation, we’ve never had to deal with distemper.  But our luck ran out and so did that of little Hans and Franz. 
If anything good came of this, it’s that next time we will be better prepared.  We’ve learned a lot and will institute new policies and procedures to minimize the risk of distemper getting into the shelter and the damage if it does.  So Hans and Franz didn’t die in vain.  But that’s cold comfort today.

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