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Canine Parvovirus Temporarily Closes Shelter

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Kate Hains
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A case of canine parvovirus has temporarily closed a shelter in Western Massachusetts.

As a precautionary measure, the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter in Pittsfield is off limits to the public. A sick dog was brought to the shelter on Saturday after being found in Springside Park. The 18-month-old boxer mix was then taken to the Animal ER of the Berkshires where vet John Reynolds says it was diagnosed with the highly contagious and deadly canine parvovirus. Reynolds says the virus attacks the inner lining of the intestine, causing a lack of appetite, bloody diarrhea and vomiting that could potentially lead to bacterial infections.

“If untreated and young, the diarrhea is so bad that they lose fluids, become septic and die from it,” Reynolds said. “Even if they are treated, sometimes they still don’t make it.”

Reynolds says the dog, now named “Noah,” was given medication and IV fluids over the weekend. He says the boxer mix was eating and drinking when he released it back to the Sonsini shelter Monday afternoon and is doing fine. He adds workers from the hospital vaccinated dogs housed at the shelter after recently being brought in by Pittsfield Animal Control. Reynolds says the virus is transferred through fecal matter and is most harmful to puppies younger than 10 weeks.

“The difficult problem that we have with parvo is that the actual virus is inside of a capsule that protects it,” he said. “So when the virus is shed in the environment it can last for weeks or months.”

Reynolds says about 90 percent of dogs are vaccinated through the “puppy series” while most pet stores and rescue shelters like the Sonsini and Berkshire Humane Society require dogs to have the vaccine before being released. This marks the second time this year the virus has been confirmed in the Berkshires. In June, officials from the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources Division of Animal Health warned of a potential outbreak in the area. John Perreault is the Executive Director of the Berkshire Humane Society.

“Years ago when it first came on the scene it was terrible,” Perreault said. “For anybody that’s in the animal sheltering business, when you take in an animal and you don’t know its background, there’s always that possibility. I believe there are cases almost every single year. Going back to the late 1980s or 90s it was more of an epidemic back then than now, but now there’s a vaccine.”

As chair of the Pittsfield Animal Control Commission, Reynolds says cases pop up and fizzle out in low-income areas where people tend to not vaccinate their dogs.

“We’ve had some summers where we’ll end up seeing 15 dogs with parvo all in the same two weeks because they’re all in the same neighborhood,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds adds no specific breed is more susceptible than the next in terms of contracting the virus, but Rottweilers have a harder time recovering. Full recovery is possible, proven by Perreault’s standard poodle, which he adopted when it had the virus at 12 weeks.

“He was abandoned at a veterinary facility,” said Perreault. “No one wanted to pay the bill.  Thirteen years later, he’s still going strong.”

The Sonsini shelter is contracted by the city of Pittsfield to house stray dogs animal control officers bring in. It will continue that service and plans to reopen to the public on October 13. Perrault says the Humane Society maintains an open door policy, though it’s near maximum capacity, currently caring for about 150 animals, typical for this time of year.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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