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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:

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.

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