ND Shelter’s Failure to Follow Protocols Results in Dozens of Preventable Dog Deaths

In March 2010, two stray dogs were picked up in rural MN and taken to the nearest shelter in Grand Forks, ND.  At the shelter, they were kept together in isolation for 5 days, in accordance with shelter protocol, then moved to the adoption floor with the general shelter population.  A few days later, shelter staff deemed one of the two dogs unadoptable due to aggressive behavior and killed him.  The other dog went to a foster family:

Five days later, the dog was vomiting and had loss of balance. On March 27, the family returned the dog to the shelter, where it was examined by a veterinarian, who noted hyperesthesia, tremors, ataxia, and dilated pupils. Because the differential diagnosis included canine distemper and rabies, the dog was euthanized the same day, and the brain was sent to the state veterinary diagnostic laboratory for testing. Three days later, the laboratory reported that a fluorescent antibody test was positive for rabies virus.

My assumption, based on the article, is that the shelter protocol does not include vaccination.  I can only guess the reason for this is perhaps the oft cited “lack of funds”.  Apparently the shelter did have money in the budget for Fatal Plus to kill the dog deemed unadoptable.  At any rate, the shelter had a policy of permitting no contact between dogs.  This would obviously be essential at a shelter that does not vaccinate.  It’s not nearly as beneficial as vaccination, but preventing contact would at least reduce some risks.

The dog who had been killed for aggressive behavior was assumed to have carried the rabies virus as well after the buddy dog tested positive.  So the potential exposure pool included the family who found the dogs in MN, any staff, volunteers and visitors to the ND shelter during the time the two dogs were there, along with the foster family of the one dog and anyone who had visited them during the time they had the rabid dog.  Ultimately 21 people received rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Unfortunately for shelter dogs, there is no PEP.  As such, they are completely reliant on shelter staff to vaccinate upon intake.  In the case of this shelter which apparently doesn’t vaccinate, the dogs rely upon the staff and volunteers to adhere to the “no contact” protocol.  “However, shelter employees could not verify that this policy was strictly followed” during the time the two rabid dogs were at the shelter.  Therefore, in the absence of vaccination and in consideration of the failure of shelter personnel to follow protocol, the following dogs were killed:

  • 25 dogs still living at the shelter at the time rabies was confirmed
  • 11 dogs who had been adopted out or redeemed by owners during the period the rabid dogs were at the shelter  (This was a choice made by the eleven owners.  Thirteen other owners elected to quarantine their dogs at home for six months.)

All 36 dogs were tested:

All euthanized dogs tested negative for rabies. No additional cases of rabid animals related to possible shelter exposure had been identified as of December 2010.

As for the people who had been exposed:

As of December, no contacts had developed rabies.

A note at the end of the report states, in part:

Several measures should be instituted in animal shelters and other public settings where humans are exposed to animals to decrease the risk for rabies virus transmission and to facilitate the epidemiologic investigation of identified cases. First, all domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies, in accordance with guidelines. Second, animals without documentation of vaccination against rabies should be kept separate from the public, wildlife, and other animals to prevent transmission of the virus. In this case, 36 dogs had to be euthanized because employees and volunteers might not have consistently followed the shelter’s policy of preventing muzzle-to-muzzle contact between dogs.

Thank you Janeen for the link to this report.

20 thoughts on “ND Shelter’s Failure to Follow Protocols Results in Dozens of Preventable Dog Deaths

  1. What a fiasco. Hard to believe any shelter would allow the public to handle dogs without rabies vaccination, let alone place an unvaccinated animal in a foster home. I’m sure the attorneys will have a field day with this.

    Although I don’t think vaccinating on intake would have changed the outcome for any of the dogs, it would provide the shelter some defense in a negligence suit.

    Rabies vaccine is cheap. Defending lawsuits is not.

    1. Indeed Mary, had the shelter had a vaccination upon intake protocol in place, there would have been no dogs to report to the CDC as UNVACCINATED AND POSSIBLY EXPOSED once the rabies test came back positive for the one dog. They could all be alive today.

      1. The Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention referenced in the article, states in part:

        “Within 28 days after initial vaccination, a peak rabies virus antibody titer is reached, and the animal can be considered immunized (12). An animal is currently vaccinated and is considered immunized if the initial vaccination was administered at least 28 days previously or booster vaccinations have been administered in accordance with this compendium….

        “Dogs, cats, and ferrets that are currently vaccinated should be revaccinated immediately, kept under the owner’s control, and observed for 45 days”

        So if a dog had come into the shelter & been vaccinated 28 days previous, it would have been considered “vaccinated”. Any vaccinations closer in time to that would not count. And even if they had held dogs more than 28 days, they would then have to hold them for observation another 45 days under these guidelines.

        Not too many gov’t AC’s give a dog 28 days to get adopted; and not many would be able to hold them in quarantine another 45 days. For most AC’s this would not be feasible.

        So I think the outcome for the dogs might have been the same.

      2. You may be right Mary but I noticed in the report that for the dogs who had been adopted out during the time the rabid dogs were in the shelter – if the owners had obtained rabies vaccination on their own, they were not asked to choose between quarantine or killing. They were apparently regarded as protected.

      3. The report is not entirely clear, but it may be that the 12 dogs that were utd were owner re-claims and were vaccinated prior to being impounded, since this shelter also acts as the city pound. Could have been owner turn-ins that came with documentation of vaccination. Also possible they had been vax’d by the shelter more than 28 days prior to the rabies exposure. Pure speculation on my part.

      4. Reasonable speculation Mary. Again, you may be correct that vaccination wouldn’t have saved those 36 dogs. It’s also possible to my mind that it would have. In any case, the dog they put on the adoption floor for a few days who ended up being killed for aggression (doesn’t specify if dog or human aggression), could have potentially bitten someone. As could any of the other unvaccinated dogs on the adoption floor. I strongly believe in vaccination upon intake and in its absence, in the case of this shelter, I wish they would have adhered to their own “no contact policy”. I’m not at all comfortable with the idea of volunteers walking unvaccinated dogs or with fosters/adopters taking them home.

      5. I completely agree with you that animals should be vaccinated by the shelter on intake. I also agree that to have volunteers or even employees handling unvaccinated dogs is indefensible. Leaves you wide open for a negligence claim.

  2. My shelter does not vaccinate all animals for rabies.
    First, obviously, the animal has to be old enough (therefore, any kittens going to a foster home are going unvaccinated- this would be true pretty much everywhere, i’d assume).
    second, by state law, a veterinarian has to administer the vaccination. I don’t know if the ND shelter has a vet on staff (or just has a consulting vet), but at our shelter, as most of our vets spend their time in surgery, animals that need to be sterilized (and are of age) are given the rabies vaccination during sterilization. Animals that are already fixed do not get it (because the vet won’t necessarily see them, and because if they were speutered then they were vaccinated for it at some point (most likely)).

    In 5.5 years i’ve only heard of rabies once in a domestic animal that came to the shelter- a kitten that was too young to be vaccinated anyway. And i’m in the same geographical area as the above shelter.

    Euthanizing all the other animals at the shelter seems excessive, but in my experience (with the State Department of Health in our rabies exposure situation) the State is pretty strict. Now, they didn’t ask us to euthanize any other animals in our shelter when the kitten tested positive, but maybe it’s different for dogs. We have no contact rules too, but unless animals are kept 100% in a plexi cage and not walked or visited with…well, i’m pretty sure you can’t ever GUARANTEE that no contact has ever happened.

    6 months seems really excessive for a quarantine, considering a bite quarantine is only for 10 days.

    1. Anne, it’s one thing not to vaccinate kittens and puppies too young to vaccinate, and another thing entirely to just not bother to vaccinate any animals except the individuals that happen to get spay/neuter surgery when they arrive.

      Yes, the dogs that come in speutered have probably been vaccinated at some point–but if there’s no record of it, it’s not going to save them from a kill order if they’re exposed to a rabid animal. And while over-vaccination has risks, Fatal Plus is what it says it is.

      “The vet doesn’t have time” is no excuse for vaccination not being a routine part of intake protocol. Really it isn’t. Nor is “No vet on staff.” Giving a dog or cat a rabies shot just doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Giving a combo shot for the other highly contagious canine diseases doesn’t take long either. Failure to have any means of doing so is not a defense for the “shelter”; it’s an admission that the decision-makers Do. Not. Care.

      1. Please don’t assume that we don’t vaccinate upon incoming- all of our animals are given DHPP/PRC and Bordetella (canines only) upon incoming, and are given a full physical prior to even being put in a cage/kennel.
        But you assume that it’s the time it takes to vaccinate. However, if there isn’t a vet in the building and animal comes in that needs to be vaccinated, as i stated above, it is illegal for anyone else to administer that vaccination. It has to be adminstered by a veterinarian.
        While i’ve been working at this location, we’ve received approximately 15,000 animals. You know how many have ever tested positive for rabies? Zero.

        We base policy and procedures on the majority, not on the exception. And we spend our limited resources in the same way. So lets say a rabies vaccination costs $10. 30% of our animals will be vaccinated. 30% are too young to be vaccinated. That means 30% are adopted without being vaccinated. These animals are then vaccinated at their free vet visit with their new vet (who actually appreciates the revenue. You should’ve heard the backlash from the vet community when we started rabies vaccinating the 30% that needed sterilization). This allows us to spend $4500 in other ways, such as dental cleanings and other ‘elective’ medical procedures. I feel that this is smart planning and good spending

    2. A rabid animal is only considered potentially contagious for 10 days before the point where the disease is fatal. But rabies can take up to six months between initial infection and showing symptoms. That’s why the difference in quarantine lengths. Six months, afaik, is standard for a potentially exposed, unvaccinated animal.

  3. Unfortunately, in Kansas only a licensed veterinarian may administer rabies vaccine. Not a vet tech, nor anyone but the vet him/herself. Therefore it would be impossible for all but maybe one or two shelters in this state that are large enough or well endowed enough and have a vet on staff to give a prophylactic rabies vaccination. I agree it would be ideal, but until the veterinarians agree to allow what is best for the animals and the public instead of what is best for them, it will not happen in this state.

  4. i realize that vets dont want anybody giving rabies vax but them and theres no point arguing with them about it, however – each 501c3 group should be allowed one or two trained techs to be licensed to vax pets surrendered to the group – that is common sense

    but for now, heres what the ordinary person can do to help — go to your vet and ask for a low-cost weekend drive-in rabies clinic to be held in a shopping center parking lot, offer to help defray the cost or raise funds or sign up sponsors, point out to the vet that it would be excellent pr for their business, low cost shots should be around $8 each, offer other vaccinations and microchipping for extra fee

  5. I know not every area is able to do this but our ACO/Dog Shelter sponsors one day every month when ANYONE can come in and get their rabies vac for like $5 – and I mean anyone….I have seen homeless people there with their dogs as well as people rocking cadillacs, mercedes, etc. I know that our shelter has a vet on staff…but given that rabies vacs really aren’t that expensive – maybe you could talk to vets about doing it for PR – or even a “donation”….everyone loves the words “tax write off”! (even vets)

    I have seen shelters arrange a local yard sale at the time of having a vet present to perform vaccines and it brings people out for both reasons – cheap items for sale & cheap/free vaccines…great opportunity to raise awareness for the shelter – the vet – importance of vaccinations – I could go on and on. The problem here is only is how far we can allow our imaginations to take us.

    While I know it doesn’t help the dogs that are already gone…but I was under the impression that all shelters were supposed to be giving vaccines & spay/neuter for ALL adopted animals. I mean, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing in the shelters…besides the obvious killing that takes place ALL too often? If our own shelters can help educate the public on the importance of spay/neuter & vaccinations by doing them themselves how can we expect the general public to understand how important those measure are?????

  6. In Minnesota, it is STATUTE that requires rabies vaccine to be administered by a veterinarian. There may be states where someone other than a licensed vet can vaccinate a dog/cat for rabies – I don’t know of any, but I have not researched the requirements in every state. Where the law requires that a vet administer the vaccine and so certify, an animal that was vaccinated by someone other than a vet is legally “not vaccinated” for rabies.

  7. Whatever the rules, state by state, about administering the RV, the whole string of events in this episode is completely unacceptable. Staff should be re-educated about protocol, and those who cannot attend these classes should be terminated. Plus, the shelter should and easily could have sheets similar to MDS that records who did what on what day and date, with more info that just intake date and origin.

  8. I think if I am reading this correctly is that the dogs were not kept in isolation….did not receive a rabies vaccination. In all the years I have had a licensed shelter home, most of the dogs get the vaccination before they can get a Health certificate to cross state lines to come here. Then we always keep them in our isolation area designated by the state at inspection time. They remain there for 10 days away from the other dogs…they get leash walks, and time in the yard on a long line til we get to know them a bit…

    1. yeah that’s the kicker and a really valid point-
      Technically, to cross the state line (even for impound services) the animals should’ve had a health certificate which means a rabies vaccination. But depends on how strict your local board of animal health is.
      Animals into MN? better have a health certificate and rabies vx. Animals from MN into WI (or ND?) maybe not so much. MN is pretty strict on all their animal laws- including the rabies statutes and the MN Vet Practice Act that prohibits any organization that is not owned by a DVM from providing vet services to publicly owned animals

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