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(WBIR - Oak Ridge) The Oak Ridge Animal Shelter is extending its self-imposed shutdown due to a recent outbreak of the canine distemper virus.

The shelter announced a five-day closure on Thursday, March 9, and planned to reopen Tuesday. The shelter's leadership has decided to remain closed for two additional days to allow staff more time to fully disinfect and sterilize the facility.

Veterinarians confirmed a few cases where dogs at the shelter were infected by the deadly airborne distemper virus. It can take a few weeks for an animal to show symptoms, giving the virus lots of opportunities to spread undetected.

"It is not unusual to see an outbreak like this where you have got a shelter setting with dogs from different backgrounds co-mingled with different vaccination status. I think the Oak Ridge shelter has done the right thing by closing down for now to stop the spread," said Melissa Kennedy, clinical virologist at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. "It is sort of similar to measles in humans. It causes respiratory disease. It can be fatal in dogs, particularly in puppies. It can cause neurological disease as well as pneumonia."

Distemper can be treated in some cases, but there is no cure. The main way to fight the virus is through prevention via immunizations.

"It is a preventable disease and I recommend folks contact their veterinarians to see what is needed for their own dog," said Kennedy. "Usually, dogs will get a vaccine series as a puppy, then a booster at about a year of age, and then generally another one about every three years. It is an airborne virus and is more prevalent this time of year. Some wildlife like can contract it and spread it to dogs such as raccoons and foxes, so it is important that dogs be immunized."

Due to the contagious nature of the virus and the fact it can take several days for immunizations to take effect, the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter made the difficult decision to euthanize dozens of dogs that were already exposed to infected animals at the facility.

The disease also claimed the life of a puppy that was recently adopted from the shelter as a Valentine's Day present for a 10-year-old girl.

"My daughter had wanted a dog, so we adopted this dachshund mix from the

After a couple of weeks, Cupid began displaying some signs of illness. What started as a cough grew into pneumonia and heavy congestion, symptoms of the distemper virus.Oak Ridge Animal Shelter just after Valentine's Day. We named her Cupid. She was a perfect fit for our family. She was just a loving little dog and we all fell in love with her," said April Osbourne of Oak Ridge. "I never had a dog that I was attached to, but Cupid just swept my whole family off our feet."

"She lost her appetite and wouldn't go for the doggy treats, the rewards for going outside. We just knew something was up," said Osbourne. "We took her to the vet and she just got worse and worse. She had this terrible congestion and died Friday night. We've all a soggy weekend with a lot of tears. We're heartbroken. I just want people to know to be on the lookout for this and know the symptoms."

In addition to immunizing pets, the Oak Ridge Police Department told 10News it is asking people to avoid leaving dog food or water outside that could attract wild animals that carry the virus. A pet eating from the same bowl as an infected animal can easily spread the distemper virus.

The ASPCA website provides the following details about the distemper virus and its symptoms.
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/distemper

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