KINGMAN - The Mohave County Animal Shelter in Kingman hasn't gone to the dogs or the rats yet. Western Arizona Humane Society Director Victoria Cowper isn't disputing that the shelter has had dogs brought in with signs of distemper and a county health report of rat droppings found in a food storage room.
"It's really all semantics. Yes, the health department found some rodent droppings in a food storage area," she said. But no actual rats were spotted. With a facility that deals with such a large number of animals and the amount of food that has to be stored to feed those animals, it is not unusual to have some sort of pest problem, Cowper said. The shelter is already taking steps to control the problem.
As for the July reports of distemper at the shelter, Cowper said the shelter did have 22 to 27 suspected cases of the disease in dogs dropped off at shelter.
"I don't know if I would call it an outbreak," she said. "It's a reflection of what is happening in the community at large."
Residents, perhaps because of the current economy, aren't vaccinating their pets against diseases such as distemper or parvo and it's spreading the disease to other animals, Cowper said.
Distemper is an extremely contagious virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association's website. The virus can be spread through the air to other dogs. Infected dogs typically have runny eyes, develop a fever, a snotty nose, have a cough, may have vomiting or diarrhea, have seizures and develop paralysis. The disease can be fatal if not treated, according to the AVMA. It takes a few days for symptoms of distemper to show.
The distemper cases seem to be limited to the Kingman area, Cowper said. The Western Arizona Humane Society shelter in Lake Havasu and the shelter in Bullhead City have not reported cases of the disease.
Ruby Duey from the Kingman Animal Hospital said that they have seen at least two confirmed cases of distemper in the last three months and at least six suspected cases.
The best way to prevent a dog from getting the virus, or any other disease, is make sure their puppies get all of their necessary vaccinations as early as possible and continue a vaccination schedule throughout the life of the pet, Duey said.
The shelter has not had a case of distemper since mid-July, Cowper said. The dogs suspected to have distemper at the shelter were not put up for adoption, she said. All puppies receive all the vaccinations they need before they are adopted out, according to Cowper, and residents adopting pets are given flyers with information about the symptoms of distemper and asked to sign a document saying they have read the information.
The shelter follows strict cleaning guidelines to make sure diseases such as distemper do not spread to other animals, however they are working with limited resources, Cowper said. The shelter was not built to handle such a large population of stray animals.
There is no way, with the setup of the current facilities, that the shelter could quarantine the sick animals from the healthy ones, and the shelter doesn't have the funds to vaccinate every animal brought in or have a vet on staff, she said. Shelter staff simply has to make sure the kennels are as clean as possible.
The shelter will offer a replacement pet if an animal they adopt becomes sick, Cowper said. However, if a family chooses to keep the pet, they are responsible for all of its medical bills.
"It's a highly emotional subject," she said. "We love that people are so compassionate, but you also have to be realistic. We are here to provide a service to the community. We don't create the dogs or the disease. It's a reflection of what's happening in the community."