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Canine distemper forces second shelter to close in Walker County

The Walker County Humane and Adoption Center was forced to close to the public after a confirmed case of canine distemper. It is the second shelter in the county forced to close because of the deadly infection. (Stephen Quinn | abc3340.com)

A second shelter in Walker County was forced to close its doors to the public indefinitely after a confirmed case of canine distemper. The Walker County Humane and Adoption Center confirmed a dog adopted from the shelter recently was diagnosed by a veterinarian.

Walker County said more dogs appeared to be ill at the shelter. Test kits for all the dogs were ordered. The test results were expected by the end of next week. In the meantime the shelter said it would not accept any strays or allow animals to be adopted as a precaution to keep the infection from spreading further.

Distemper is an extremely contagious infection that is often fatal in dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, infected dogs will first develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (“chewing gum fits”), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the foot pads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease.”

"Unfortunately there are some (dogs) I'm sure will have to be euthanized only because they are so sick there's not any hope of saving them," said county official Robbie Dickerson.

The news came a week after the City of Jasper's animal shelter confirmed eight dogs had contracted the infection. The closure of both animal shelters meant the work of handling stay animals shifted to veterinarians and local animal groups.

Susie Vann, who serves on the board of the Walker County Humane Society, said the Pets on Parade fundraiser in Gamble Park was closed as a precaution. She said the society hope to organize a vaccine drive with local veterinarians to help combat the spread of the infection in the future.

"It's constant phone calls, constant contacts begging all of us to take dogs that they have found on the side of the road or that have been tossed out. There's absolutely nowhere to put them. It is a crisis situation in my opinion."

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