County shelter reopens with progressive vision

Posted 1/23/19

Tuesday was a new start for the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center.The animal shelter reopened Tuesday after being closed since November due to a distemper outbreak that resulted in all the …

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County shelter reopens with progressive vision


Tuesday was a new start for the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center.

The animal shelter reopened Tuesday after being closed since November due to a distemper outbreak that resulted in all the shelter's dogs testing positive for the disease.

Many joined at the shelter on Tuesday to celebrate the reopening and reflect on their battle over the past two months to save as many dogs as possible.

Shelter Manager Kay Farley said when she received a call on Nov. 7 that an adopted dog from the shelter had tested positive for distemper, she immediately closed its doors. Walker County animal rescue organization Rescuers United For Furbabies (RUFF) then stepped in to test some of the shelter's 85 dogs for distemper, but it quickly became a financial struggle.

RUFF co-founder Marsha Miller said each test cost roughly $130. Some of RUFF's rescue partners alerted them to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine for assistance with testing, and RUFF has been in constant communication with the school since November to help the county shelter.  

Jasper Veterinary Clinic's veterinarian, Dr. Martin Roberts, said he did an initial walk-through of the county animal shelter when they feared a distemper outbreak. He says without the University of Wisconsin, the dogs there would've suffered a grim fate.  

"Wisconsin basically gave us the opportunity to not have to max euthanize, because we wouldn't have had a choice," Roberts said.

The school of veterinary medicine went on to provide funding to test each dog at the animal shelter for distemper and process the tests. Each dog was tested for the disease numerous times, since dogs must have two negative tests to be deemed clear of the disease.

Eleven weeks of testing for the animal shelter cost over $65,000 — at no cost to the shelter.  

Walker County Administrator Robbie Dickerson said without assistance from the university, "I don't know what we would've done."

Of the 85 dogs that tested positive, only 16 died of the disease. Forty-three have been cleared of the disease, and many left on a recent transport to other animal rescues, where they will eventually be placed in forever homes. Another 21 dogs remain positive for the disease and are in foster homes with RUFF.

Eight of the dogs that no longer have distemper are at the county shelter and available for adoption.

Before the shelter reopened Tuesday, RUFF and other volunteers assisted with a deep cleaning of the facility from top to bottom, and Central States Manufacturing provided metal that now serves as a barrier between kennels. Farley said such separation of the dogs has always been recommended, and it will also aid in preventing the spread of infection or parasites.

"Everything is a total transformation from what it was," Farley said.

The Walker County Commission will soon pay for concrete to be poured where the outdoor kennels are located. The concrete will replace gravel and provide a clean surface for sanitization.

All animals are now vaccinated upon intake as well, paid for by the commission.

There were several dogs and cats available at the shelter for adoption on Tuesday, but Farley said they plan to keep intake levels down from what they have been in the past to hopefully place the animals they have faster. 

Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped the shelter through a difficult time, and Dickerson said the shelter has a bright future ahead after surviving a storm.     

"These ladies and gentlemen have worked hard," she said.

The commission was set to discuss other matters regarding the shelter Tuesday night.

The Walker County Humane and Adoption Center is located off Highway 78 West, next to the Walker County Landfill, and adoption/surrender inquiries may be made by calling (205) 388-8595.

Firm operating hours for the shelter will be announced at a later date.