More than half of the 44 dogs that BARC was set to put down will be spared, shelter officials said Monday.

The change in strategy came after Dr. Cynda Crawford, who specializes in the care, treatment, and disposition of canine distemper, contacted the Anderson County Animal Shelter on Saturday. She gave the shelter alternatives that do not require a two-month quarantine, as the shelter's consulting veterinarian had advised last week.

Putting 44 dogs in quarantine for two months would have been cost-prohibitive for the shelter, requiring nearly $40,000.

The 26 dogs still alive at the Anderson County Animal Shelter will be tested for distemper; if they test positive for the virus, the shelter will be directed on how to care for them from a vet who specializes in this disease. Crawford is a clinical professor of shelter medicine with the University of Florida.

“After consulting with Dr. Crawford, we are no longer faced, due to the high cost of a long-term quarantine, with putting down the remaining 26 dogs that were exposed to the virus,” said BARC member Brenda Beazley. “We will test our 26 dogs in adoption and any who have been adopted from us in the last 30 days. Once the testing is complete, Dr. Crawford will guide us as to the best option, including the treatment of any dogs that have the virus.”

On Friday, Virginia Hightower, president of the Anderson County Humane Society, expressed the shelter's heartbreak over putting down 18 and dogs and facing putting down another 26.

The shelter also is receiving help from American Pets Alive.

“We will also have their help and guidance for the latest cleaning techniques to help kill the disease in our facility,” Beazley said. “They will be on-site to assist with this mid-week.”

After the testing is complete, the shelter will follow a new protocol set forth by its veterinarian consultants and the State Health Department.

“We would like to remind the public that this is a community and statewide issue with Texas having the highest rate of distemper in the United States,” Beazley said. “It is very important the public understands this is not isolated to our local animal shelter.”

Canine distemper is a viral disease affecting 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.

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. Shelter workers believe the distemper virus was brought into the shelter by one of these animals.

This is not the shelter’s first case of distemper, but it's the first time the virus seemed to be more than the shelter could control.

“We would like to encourage the public to get the necessary vaccines for your dogs to keep them safe from distemper,” said Beazley.

The shelter will close to the public until Oct. 28.

The city of Palestine will still provide animal control services. Those animals are cared for at the former shelter facility, next door to the current facility.

The Anderson County Humane Society 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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