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Distemper outbreak temporarily closes Knoxville Puppy Zone

6:57 PM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
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The Puppy Zone pet store in West Knoxville remains closed because of a distemper outbreak.

Owner Steven Glatz closed the store on June 11, 2012 because of a distemper outbreak among some Siberian Husky puppies he recently sold. 10News has confirmed with veterinarian Dr. Leslie Brown that at least three Husky puppies died because of complications from the virus.

Knoxville Police Department Animal Control Sergeant Karen Pappas told 10News that Glatz is under no legal obligation to notify the public about the distemper outbreak. However, some of the puppies' owners wanted to share their stories.

Stacy Minnis has been by her mother Wanda's side for the past five days, ever since Wanda's new Husky puppy died, also on June 11. Stacy said the pup brought their family great joy for a short time. Wanda only owned the puppy for two-and-a-half weeks before he passed away.

"Mom just wanted a companion, you know, and she's always wanted a Husky," said Minnis.

Wanda named the Husky puppy Sky because both of his eyes were blue. That is a rare quality in a Siberian Husky.

"His bright blue eyes, that just kind of brought you in and caught your attention," said Minnis.

Wanda paid a little less than $1,000 for Sky at the Puppy Zone. Minnis said the pup was playful at first but quickly became sick.

"Awkward breathing and awkward movements in his sleep, and being wobbly and just not quite his self," Minnis explained about the symptoms Sky exhibited.

Earlier this week, Wanda took sky to see Dr. Leslie Brown, a local veterinarian the Puppy Zone recommends to all of the owners who purchase from their store.

Dr. Brown diagnosed Sky with distemper, a deadly virus, especially for puppies' fragile immune systems. Sky never left Dr. Brown's office.

"There was pretty much no choice unless you wanted to watch him die a slow death than to euthanize him," said Minnis.

Dr. Brown told 10News in a phone interview Friday that she also euthanized another Husky named Juneau, as well as a third pup all from the same litter.

Juneau's owner, Whitney Bettinger, told 10News in a phone interview on Friday that Juneau was a companion her 4-year-old daughter, Molly. They owned Juneau about a week before she also died from distemper.

10News visited the Puppy Zone on Friday. Even though the sign on the front door said they would re-open Friday, there are still tarps covering the windows and the door is locked. Dr. Brown said the store will not re-open until all of the other puppies, still for sale in side the store, test negative for distemper. Brown said, so far, several of those puppies have already tested negative for the disease. It is unclear how many dogs are currently at the store or when the rest of the test results will be ready.

Glatz would not give 10News an interview for this story but he issued us the following statement:

"Steven Glatz owner of Puppy Zone has opted to close for sanitation and remodeling quarantine areas, due to an occurrence of distemper. Mr.Glatz is consulting with local, state, and national expert officials for preventions while following all protocols for this type of virus. Some tests have confirmed (negative) for distemper and awaiting results for the rest of our puppies. This is our 1stencounter with distemper and working extensively for everyone's safety and protection. Information on awareness of distemper, please follow the link below."

The Puppy Zone has been in the news several times over the past few years. Protestors gathered outside of the store on March 6, 2010. Animal rights activists claimed that the store bought its animals from puppy mills. At the time, Glatz told 10News that his puppy purchases are on the up and up. "All of our puppies come from private homes. We do not support puppy mills in any way," he said.

Due to the distemper outbreak, and the previous claims that Glatz buys from puppy mills, 10News checked with local animal control about the store's record.

According to Knoxville Police Animal Control, The Puppy Zone has passed every inspection they have conducted since the store opened several years ago. Records also show the store passed state inspections on November 7, 2011 and June 8, 2012.

Dr. Brown said distemper can spread in shelters just as easily as stores. Basically, the disease can grown and spread anywhere there are a large number of dogs kept together or near each other. She said the key to stopping it is vaccinations.

While sharing Sky's story to warn other families about disease, Stacy Minnis believes her mother's dog, Sky, did not have to die.

For more information about distemper and about necessary vaccinations, check out the ASPCA's website.

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