KY Shelter Kills More Than 200 Dogs

Not only did the Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter kill over 200 dogs due to “exposure” to canine distemper, they got a local vet to justify it to the media – a vet who says she’s never “known of” any distemper cases in 14 years.  A different vet, who serves on the pound’s board, describes distemper to the TV news reporter as “mainly a community problem”.

Now that all that is out of the way, and since the reporter did not ask:  WHY?  Why didn’t the shelter reach out to the public to see if anyone could offer temporary quarantine to dogs who were asymptomatic?  Why didn’t they quarantine asymptomatic dogs themselves?  Did they even try to save any of these dogs?

The article says vaccination and cage cleaning are important to preventing distemper.  Why wasn’t the shelter leading by example and providing vaccination upon intake and disease prevention cleaning protocols?  How is distemper “mainly a community problem” if the shelter is failing to meet minimum standards and responds to disease outbreak with a mass killing?

32 thoughts on “KY Shelter Kills More Than 200 Dogs

    1. Ona, as tragic as this is, that’s funny! You have to wonder if there’s a common mentality, mindset, or lack of a mind altogether, that these places look for in their administrators. There is something about these slaughterhouses that seem to attract the type of person who would allow this, much less excuse it. I wish we could figure out what it was so they could be gotten rid of as easily as these people seem to throw out the animals.

  1. I just read this in the media release. Unbelievable. I don’t know a Vett in Middle Tennessee who has seen a confirmed case of Distemper in their entire careers.
    Athough many vets do not test for Distemper, because dogs do not survive without serious and latent neurological issues, in this case a random test of this group of dogs would have been warranted. In “Herd Health” in Shelter Medicine, it is critical not to jeopardize all animals for the sake of a few in communicable disease. Understood…but as Biscuit stated, why did they not test? Why not quarantine the asymtomatic dogs?Why not simply lock down for 3 days to bet a handle on this?

    Now since they are sure they had a Distemper Epidemic, all owner surrenderers, neighbors of areas where strays were picked up, Again, in my experience, many Vets will suggest humane euthanasia for a dog presenting symptoms of Distemper, but

    1. Sorry…on my not so smart phone! What I meant was that all people within proximity of any dogs impounded and now euthannized need to know! And the facilty should be locked down, empty, and thoroughly cleaned for several/days before opening again for new impounds.

      And what about new stray impounded dogs impounded less than the required time? Were photos taken? Incase someone looks for their pet?

    2. Probably not – just kill ’em and toss ’em in the wherever they toss them.

      It is infuriating that, with modern advances in veterinary medicine, these folks are still in the back ages. Course, these are the same folks that kill them for colds and sneezing three times in a row.

      RIP pups – you didn’t deserve to be treated so badly.

    3. I’m guessing because they didn’t want to spend the money, even though I imagine IDEXX would offer a discount to this shelter (they have done so in the past for serious outbreak issues), and I’m sure vets would have offered their services to do some random PCR tests or spinal taps.

      It’s not possible to do a random test without false positives happening. For certain SOME of those 200 dogs were vaccinated and would show up with distemper antibodies in their titer…but that doesn’t mean they’re sick.

      Distemper is insanely contagious. You don’t mess with this virus, period. I’ve seen what it does to dogs firsthand, and it is NOT pretty.

      The shelter has poor health management protocols. Vaccinating all incoming animals, particularly juvenile puppies (4-6 months old) prevents the worst of the worst from happening – a true epidemic. And in a shelter, a distemper outbreak is not just a problem that you can just “lock down for three days” for – it’s a fast-moving, easily transmittable, death-dealer. And dogs shed it for months after infection!

      1. Marji is completely right on this. There really isn’t an accurate way to test for Distemper in live animals (you can confirm post-mortem). Even worse, many of the early symptoms are similar to other common shelter diseases like kennel cough. It is a very scary thing for shelters and yes, it is horrible for animals in the late stages. When we took over our local shelter in January, we had several confirmed cases of distemper — and it does spread quickly. And it’s always a touch-and-go thing between trying to save lives and not risking the entire shelter population because of it.

        That said, Killing them all shouldn’t be an option if shelters are vaccinating on intake and if you assume at least some vaccination compliance in the community. So while we had several cases early on, we never had to put down more than 6-12 animals (out of 250+) because of disease concerns.

        BTW, we actually traced the origin back to ACO vehicles which often picked up racoons in the community with distemper and then sometimes would house the dogs in the same vehicle compartment without proper sanitation and exposing the dogs to the the virus even before we had a chance to vaccinate. Fortunately AC has been very willing to work with us on this so we could cut the root of the problem.

  2. It kills me when a pound director who doesn’t vaccinate on intake turns around and blames the community for not vaccinating.

      1. I think it is two weeks for full protection — but yes, even 15 minutes, or for sure 24 hours, can make a world of difference. That said, when animals are stressed or unhealthy (which is often the case with newbies at a shelter) they can be more prone to disease spread than healthy animals, non stressed animals. So it’s not fool proof, especially early on.

  3. Do any of these shelters follow standard guidelines when it comes to vet care?

    It looks like this shelter puts out lots of requests on its Facebook page for food and supplies. Is the county not giving enough money to the shelter for basic needs including vaccines? No photos of pets available for adoption on Facebook but I did see them on Petfinder.

    I receive a lot of forwarded e-mails from shelters in KY asking for help in adopting/rescuing animals but this shelter is not one of them!

    1. I was looking at the wrong animal shelter. The Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter has no dogs listed on Petfinder only cats and its Facebook page has posted only a few animals for adoption in the past.

  4. *Sigh*…
    Ofc testing for the ones who seem to be carrying the disease and then treating it (can you treat distemper? Or once the dog gets it, its just something they have to live with? I dont know much about it) makes the most sense but these shelters are generally not doing what makes the most sense.

    1. I don’t know what the shelter meant by “testing” – the only way to accurately identify distemper is with a really expensive spinal tap.

      Distemper is untreatable. You try and manage symptoms. It’s extraordinarily contagious to other canines. It’s zoonotic to people who aren’t vaccinated against measles. It’s also very ugly to watch, especially once the animal reaches the neuro stages. And if the animal goes neuro and survives, there is a high likelihood the dog will exhibit permanent nerve damage including facial/head twitches and leg twitching.

      There is a pretty damn high mortality rate, especially in stressed out puppies.

      The shelter could have prevented the entire debacle by vaccinating every single dog who entered their facility, ESPECIALLY puppies.

      1. Ahh okay. Thanks for the info!! I didnt know that it could be spread to humans..yikes! But Im fairly certain Im vaccinated against measles so I guess Im alright. Thanks again! :)

      2. Let me clarify a few Distemper facts: There are PCR tests that can be run on urine, blood, nasal or conjunctival swabs that will diagnosis distemper. There are also titer tests, but these need to be done during the start of the disease symptoms and two to three weeks later. While Canine distemper is related to humans measles, it is NOT zoonotic, and people are not at risk of catching it from dogs.

        Like Marji said, the disease is a nasty one, but the signs and symptoms can be all over the map. Some dogs just appear to have an upper respiratory infection, while other can develop neurological signs (among other things). It does have a high mortality rate, and many dogs that do survive it have life long problems like seizures, abnormal tooth enamel, and abnormal foot pads (it used to be called “hard pad disease”).

        The good news is that the vaccine is highly effective and rapid in onset. Even one vaccine (like on intake into a shelter) will help prevent the disease in most dogs. The virus is not hardy like parvo and is readily killed by most disinfectants and does not linger in the environment.

        When a shelter is facing an outbreak, there is a way to save the exposed dogs. There is a good distemper titer test that can help separate dogs that are protected from catching the disease from those possibly susceptible. All the dogs “exposed” should be tested, and those with protective titers should be segregated and put up for adoption. All dogs should be vaccinated, and those without protective titers initially should be quarantined for 4 weeks. If after that time they are not sick, they can be put up for adoption. Of course, dogs showing clinical signs should be isolated, treated and or humanely euthanized.

        Unfortunately, while this could have saved most of these 200
        dogs, it is also expensive, labor consuming and requires quarantine space. BUT it can, and has, been done in other shelters with an outbreak.

  5. How do they know if it was canine distemper if they do not test for it? Did the media contact local vets and ask them if they are seeing more sick dogs in the community that look they they might have canine distemper? If the local vets are not seeing an increase in sick dogs how can the shelter blame this on the community?

    Way too many animal shelters do this mass killing of animals over and over again. They will not stop until the local community demands better of them and it takes more than a few people complaining a few times to get the government to take action.

    1. They can do a test post-mortem. And if they allow the animals to be sick long enough and the disease hits the neurological system it becomes very obvious what the problem is (hopefully they’re euthanized before that). So you can KNOW you have a distemper problem, but can’t test the animals to see if they have it.

      But that said, yes, it’s impossible to justify blaming the public for this if the only problems seem to be in your shelter and if you’re not vaccinating for it on intake (ie, not doing exactly what you are blaming the public for not doing).

  6. If you go to the actual news story, in the comments (which are, by and large, ignorant), someone claims that only dogs that were tested and were positive were killed. Christie Keith (who is a sensible reporter and truly knows a lot about animals) called the shelter and they confirmed that they tested and only killed those that showed up positive.

    My concern is what test was used and how accurate is it? Are the people there competent to administer and read the test? Is this a test that just picked the presence of anti-bodies, like the ones that any dog that’s been vaccinated will have? If so, it seems highly likely that most of the dogs were vaccinated prior to this event, and that killing them was not truly necessary. I’m not sure how rural the surrounding area is, but I am sure that a majority of the pet dogs that got any vet care, were vaccinated. Even the least sophisticated dog owners I’ve encountered do take their animals to the vet for ‘its shots’ even when they feed shitty food (Ol’ Roy) and/or keep animals outside most, if not all the time. I know the economy is doing a number on the financial wherewithal to keep up with things, but if the animal got vaccinated in the last three years (and possibly a few more), they should be protected. I know distemper is a horrible, virulent disease (a Doctor’s Pet puppy my mom brought home when I was a kid died from it), and no kind of quarantine would be anything but difficult and potentially impossible to manage safely, so I, technically, grasp why many think mass kills are the easiest way to deal with a potential outbreak, but I really question the test, the testing, and the ethics of anyone who would kill dogs instead of vaccinate on intake, trying to defend what they did.

    1. I don’t doubt what they told Christie Keith, but I’m wondering how that could be. Is it possible they are either totally uninformed or not telling the truth? It seems to me that if there are 200 dogs with distemper, then it must run rampant in the community and that doesn’t add up.

      Sorry to be a skeptic, but as far as too many facilities are concerned, what they say and what they did are two very different things.

      1. I suspect that hat is not on your menu any time soon.

        Were there ANY dogs at the shelter who tested negative? What test did they use? How much did each test cost? Did they have 200 test kits on hand or did they purchase them for the event?

      2. This is what happened.

        Tammy Noble, the chairman of the shelter board (it has no director), who is a volunteer, has been in her role for 6 months, during which time she’s been implementing many new policies. When the dogs started breaking with distemper, the county officials ordered that they all be killed. But she remembered she’d heard about a test that could tell if the dogs were really sick/unprotected by previous immunity, or if they were already immune and thus, safe. So she asked for 48 hours to come up with a plan. This was on a Friday.

        She called Idexx, who told her to test the entire shelter’s population of dogs would be $12,500. She had zero, so she spent the weekend trying to raise the money. She came up with $4,500, and called IDEXX to see if they’d give her a discount. They agreed to reduce it to half, and her husband agreed to sell his boat to make up the difference.

        Then the woman from IDEXX called her back and said that the Maddie’s Shelter Program at the University of Florida would do all the tests for free. So she was put in touch with Drs. Cynda Crawford and Julie Levy, who performed antibody titer tests as well as PCR follow up tests on the dogs.

        Only 13 came back as being already immune — which tells you a LOT about this community, as that’s one of the worst rates of immunity from vaccination I’ve ever heard of in a shelter population.

        The board chair spent all the money she’d raised for the tests on making changes to the shelter recommended by Drs. Levy and Crawford. She had the whole shelter high-pressure steam-washed, she painted all paintable surfaces, and she was having the cement floors sealed today (I spoke to her on, I think, Wednesday).

        The facility was not doing vax on intake, but based on Dr. Crawford’s advice, they are now doing it for both cats and dogs — I gave her info on Pfizer’s discount program for shelters, and she is working on getting that, but for now, they do have the funds to begin.

        She also went to the four counties they do intake for and said that from now on, they would not take in owner surrenders when they were full.

        Could things have been handled better? Yes. Could this have been prevented with vax on intake? Almost certainly. Could another shelter have saved some of those dogs? Probably.

        But the story told in this news report was just wrong, and presumably the reporter also wasn’t aware of the kind of testing that was available, and the difference between “exposed” and “incubating.” I also don’t know what the vet the reporter interviewed — who you might not have caught it, but works at a DIFFERENT shelter, not the one with the outbreak — actually said, but the statement attributed to her was not correct.

        Now, do I know for a fact every word Tammy Noble told me was true? I don’t. I haven’t called Cynda or Julie to confirm it. But the amount of detail, the passion in her voice, the fervor she clearly has to get everything corrected now that she knows what to do, her refusal to just kill the dogs as she was told to do, all added up to a very different story than the one in the link.

        If you want to contact her yourself, her email address (which is on the website of the shelter as the sole contact person) is If you prefer to phone her, Shirley, email me privately and I’ll give you her number.

      3. Thank you Christie. I have to question 13 coming back immune and 200 not. I’m not saying anyone was lying but I seriously question that result.

      4. I understand. Email her, perhaps, and ask for more details. Or contact U Fla. I would assume (I don’t know) that some of the dogs could have been saved even given their test results. Nor am I saying, “There’s nothing to see here, move along.”
        But this is definitely not the story it seemed at first glance.

      5. Well, I have to applaud them for at least trying to save lives and not just killing out of hand.

        The fact that so very many came back positive is…odd. Unless the dogs are milling around in a large group or staff is somehow encouraging the spread of disease (I have seen some shelters where people handling animals either use sanitizer or wash hands in between eat animal and many that never even think about handling one animal after another after another), it seems a very high percentage.

      6. I guess I should have read further before adding my 0.02! What Christie described was what I was also talking about.

        Looks like some vaccine clinics should be run in that area.

      7. It also sounds like the testing U of F did was titer testing. The 13 dogs had protective levels of antibodies against canine distemper. The 200 did not “test positive for distemper” but most likely tested with unprotective levels of antibodies (meaning they were at risk of getting distemper). The only way to deal with these animals would have been a month long quarantine to make sure they didn’t break with the disease.

  7. Thank you for “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say), Christie. The reporter who wrote the article sure knows how to leave out the important stuff! I’d like to think it was because her editor gave her 15 minutes to write up something, anything that the piece was so lacking, but who knows. She probably has little interest in science or the mechanics of disease/immunization, and that makes for a pitiful article that causes more anger than enlightenment.

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