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Scramble At The Shelter As Distemper Threatens Dogs

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MEDLEY – (CBS4) – There was a mad scramble Saturday to rescue dozens of dogs from sickness or euthanasia after a virus outbreak at Miami-Dade Animal Services in Medley put the entire dog population at risk.

Miami-Dade’s Animal Services has temporarily stopped taking in dogs and puppies until they can get an outbreak of distemper under control at the shelter at 7401 NW 74th Street.

As of Saturday night, more than 200 dogs and puppies had been adopted.

On the recommendation of Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Miami-Dade Animal Services is waiving adoption fees through Sunday to encourage people to adopt the dogs. Those who have already adopted dogs under the emergency guidelines will be receiving a reimbursement.

Independent rescuer Lourdes Caveda said dogs are her passion and she is trying to save as many dogs as she can.

“I pulled four yesterday and I pulled five today,” she said.

If they go untreated for Distemper, a canine disease akin to measles, the dogs could die. But they could also die if they are not adopted. All dogs must be removed from the shelter before efforts to eradicate Distemper begin. Dogs who are not adopted will likely be euthanized.

Spokeswoman Xiomara Mordcovich said they will get as many as they can to other rescue shelters or adopt them out. So far they have not imposed a deadline as to when they all have to be out.

“Eventually [the dogs] would be euthanized but there won’t be any large-scale euthanasia today,” said Dr. Sara Pizano, Director of Miami-Dade Animal Services. “We’re sending animals home when people want them.”

Pizano said they are hoping to save all of the animals.

“As always, our goal is to save all of them, but we need to make this shelter a healthier environment,” she said.

Animal rescue groups have been very vocal about he situation, even claiming animal services was planning a mass euthanazation. The issue is so serious that Miami-Dade commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz came to the shelter Friday to, as he put it, dispel rumors.

“They are not euthanizing all of the animals,” he said. “As you can see, there are animals everywhere and the animals are being taken care of in the best possible condition.”

Animal services has temporarily closed some services, including the rabies/microchip clinic, intake of adult dogs and puppies by the public, stray-dog pickup by animal control officers, owner-surrendered pets, and spay and neuter surgery for current shelter dogs.

“There should be some sort of a back-up plan,” said dog owner Jorge Rodriguez, whose dog was one of the last to receive a rabies vaccine before the lockdown. “This should have been planned out.”

Services that will continue as normal include investigations, buying licenses, paying citations, lost and found, intake of cats, cat adoptions, spaying and neutering of cats and the mobile animal clinic spay and neuter program.

Adoption of dogs also will continue but with a disclaimer about exposure to distemper.

In response to the Miami-Dade outbreak, Broward County Animal Care and the Humane Society of Broward County announce that they are open for business as usual, but urge residents to take proper precautions.

Miami-Dade is encouraging residents who are giving up their dog or puppy to hold off relinquishing their pets to Miami-Dade Animal Services until the situation is under control. Both canine distemper and the parvovirus (parvo) are contagious and often fatal diseases that strike the respiratory, gastro-intestanal and central nervous systems. The viruses can be avoided through proper vaccination, which should begin in puppies as young as six weeks and continue through adulthood with an annual booster shot, according to the Broward County Commission’s office.

Broward County pet owners with dogs are encouraged to take their pets to be examined and vaccinated in order to build up and maintain the body’s immunity to distemper and parvo.

Vaccinations can be received at all licensed veterinarians in Broward County as well as the Humane Society of Broward County for a limited time in response to this situation.

Distemper is caused by an unidentified virus and characterized by lethargy, fever, inflammation of the mucous membranes, sensitivity to light and vomiting. Mordcovich said trying to control the spread of infectious diseases is a challenge for every open admission shelter. Many dogs and puppies are not vaccinated prior to entering shelters and are incubating viruses, such as Parvo and Distemper.

Distemper, in particular, has become endemic in the shelter and all dogs and puppies are ill or considered exposed and at risk. In Fiscal Year 2009-2010, 36,000 animals were abandoned at Animal Services, creating overcrowding and stressful conditions for the shelter pets, which leads to the spread of infectious diseases.

The suspension should last no more than two weeks, animal services said.

Many big dogs, though, are being left behind. For example, pitbulls are illegal in Miami-Dade County. That means residents in Broward, Palm Beach, or Monroe counties would need to adopt the pitbulls at the shelter. Some dogs that were adopted are now back at the shelter because they have been coughing. Though, they are not necessarily suffering from Distemper disease, they may be put down if they are not adopted again quickly.

Independent rescuers said they are in need of foster homes for the dogs. Because of the distemper disease, the dogs have to be separated from any other dogs in the foster home.

Anyone interested in temporarily housing a dog can reach the independent rescuers at 305-774-1184 or visit http://www.furangelsrescue.com or http://www.gigisrescue.com.

To schedule an appointment only with the Humane Society of Broward County, call 954-266-6858.

For more information on how to adopt, visit http://www.miamidade.gov/animals.

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