The Anderson County Humane Society is euthanizing 44 adult dogs due to a distemper outbreak. Up to half of the dogs have already been put down.

“We are just heartbroken and sick about what we are faced with,” Virginia Hightower, president of the Anderson County Humane Society, told the Herald-Press Friday. “Our employees love and care for these animals on a daily basis with hopes of finding them homes and forever families.”

The shelter is under a self-imposed quarantine, on the advice of their consulting veterinarian and the State Department of Health, Hightower said. Owing to the cost of the alternative care, she said, the shelter will have to euthanize all 44 dogs.

“We would have to test all 44 dogs and then quarantine them for two months to ensure they don’t have the virus, and we aren’t spreading the virus,” Hightower said. “This would be too costly an endeavor for us.” Alternative care would cost nearly $40,000 for the two months.

On Monday, the animal shelter announced it was under quarantine and would not accept animals from the public until Oct. 22. To stop the spread of the disease, it is closing the facility for 12 days to deep clean the building.

“We encourage the public to understand our concern for the health of our local animals,” Hightower said. “We also would like to encourage you to vaccinate your animals to try to keep them healthy.”

Canine distemper is a viral disease affecting a variety of wild and domestic animals, including coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets, skunks, raccoons and primates. The disease does not affect domestic cats.

Signs of distemper include mild respiratory problems indistinguishable from kennel cough, severe pneumonia, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. Distemper also can lead to death. Commonly observed early signs include a runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, excessive salivation, coughing, labored breathing, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Distemper is an airborne virus that can also be spread through bodily fluids. “Our hope is that, by Oct. 21, our facility will be free of distemper,” Hightower said. “We will continue to monitor all animals brought to our facility and we strive to adopt healthy animals to the public.”

When the city picks up an animal and brings it to the shelter, a three-day hold is placed on the animal. After that, shelter employees can administer vaccinations and other care for the animal. They believe the distemper virus was brought into the shelter by one of these animals.

While cleaning and euthanizing can help stop the spread of the virus, it is airborne and can live up to ten years on a surface. It can also stay in the ground where an animal lived.

Hightower said they will look for ways to avoid outbreaks in the future.

The city can still pick up animals during the quarantine. “City animal control will have temporary housing set up for dogs and cats,” Hightower said. “These services should not be interrupted.”

The Anderson County Humane Society, Inc., DBA – BARC, is a non-profit group not owned or operated by the city of Palestine. It operates from fundraisers, donations, and grants.

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