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Midland Animal Shelter confirms distemper outbreak, sets deadline

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The Midland Animal Shelter is issuing a call for the public to assist its facility after a canine distemper outbreak has ravaged the facility. 

The Midland Animal Shelter is issuing a call for the public to assist its facility after a canine distemper outbreak has ravaged the facility. 

Michael Edwards/Getty Images

The Midland Animal Shelter has confirmed the outbreak of canine distemper within its dog population after testing approximately 111 dogs. Those results were shared in a press conference on Thursday afternoon in City Hall chambers. 

Since the initial announcement of the canine distemper virus (CDV) making an appearance in the shelter on March 26 and then another progress report on April 11 announcing the virus had continued to spread — now the city’s shelter has revealed “a broad exposure across the facility, with varying levels of viral presence.” 

In a press statement distributed to reporters on Thursday, the city shelter outlined the outbreak among its canine population. Those results are as follows: 

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  • 30 dogs show a high presence of CDV RNA, indicating active infections 
  • 42 dogs are found with a medium presence of the virus 
  • 22 dogs have low levels of the virus 
  • 17 dogs tested negative, however, 11 are in close quarters with kennel mates that tested positive, raising concerns about potential undetected exposure. 

According to the press release, “canine distemper is a severe viral dog illness marked by symptoms ranging from respiratory issues to neurological complications.” City officials say that because the virus is airborne and given the potential for long-term viral shedding even after a dog recovers from the virus, it is highly probable that all kennels have been exposed to the virus. 

City officials also say that the canine virus poses no threat to humans, but given the high mortality rate in dogs, it could call for the euthanasia of severely infected animals to mitigate prolonged virus shedding and further contagion. There have been collaborative efforts with the city’s animal shelter and animal-centric non-profits. 

On April 11, the Midland Animal Shelter announced a foster and vaccination program with organizations such as Fix West Texas and MASA. Additionally, the shelter advised that Boehringer Ingelheim, the supplier of vaccines, has played a significant role in guiding the response at the city’s shelter. 

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“They have provided critical advice on vaccination protocols to ensure the effectiveness of preventive measures for our canine population,” the city’s press release stated. 

The Texas A&M Medical Diagnostic Lab has also provided critical support in diagnosing the specifics of the infection, with their advanced testing and diagnostic services playing a vital role in understanding and monitoring of the outbreak. According to city officials, 61 distemper antibody blood titers and 131 distemper nasal swabs were sent out for diagnostic testing. 

“Their (Texas A&M) expertise has been invaluable in ensuring that our testing protocols are accurate and effective, helping us make informed decisions about the care and management of our shelter population,” advised the shelter’s press release. 

Another resource utilized during the outbreak was Purdue University. Purdue provided additional testing to determine the nature of the canine distemper virus among the shelter’s canine population. This was an important step and crucial to ensure that positive test results were because of actual exposure to the virus and not a reaction to recent vaccinations.  

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The Midland Animal Shelter has also continued to collaborate with local organizations and rescue groups such as MASA, Sassy’s Dog Rescue, Permian Basin Animal Advocates, Midland Humane Coalition, Fix West Texas, Operation Kindness, the Bissell Pet Foundation, Austin Pets Alive, Best Friends Animal Society, and PetSmart Charities. 

“These efforts aim to secure immediate placements for the dogs in environments that can provide the necessary medical care and reduce the burden on our facilities to prevent the further spread of the virus,” said the press release. 

Clare Callison, the director of National Operations at Austin Pets Alive shared her thoughts on the recent outbreak, noting her organization is communicating with the city’s shelter, however, they are not able to take in more animals. 

“We are currently unable to take in more animals as our clinic capacity is full,” Callison said in a written statement to the Reporter-Telegram. Though we can’t physically take in the animals, we are communicating with the Midland Animal Shelter and are providing support with treatment protocols and other resources. We are also working with outside partners, including Petsmart Charities, to find additional veterinarian support for the shelter.”

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Even with the best efforts of rescue groups and animal advocates, the Midland Animal Shelter has set a firm deadline for their partner organizations. All rescues and shelters have been asked to coordinate and facilitate the transfer of animals by the end of business, Saturday, April 20, 2024. 

“This effort ensures that as many dogs as possible receive the necessary care and a chance for survival in a new environment,” said the city. 

For the dogs that remain in the shelter and are severely affected by the virus, the shelter will proceed with humane euthanasia on Sunday, April 21. 

“This difficult decision comes as a last resort in our efforts to control the virus’s spread and prevent further suffering,” said the shelter in a press statement. 

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As for the exact number of canines that will be humanely euthanized on Sunday, those numbers are still unknown as efforts to transfer dogs remain. However. what is known, is that the Midland Animal Shelter will be closed to the public from Monday, April 22 until Wednesday, April 24 in order to undergo a deep cleaning and disinfection of the city’s facility. 

“Through thorough cleaning and disinfection, we aim to completely remove all traces of the virus from our facility, ensuring that our shelter is safe and ready to resume normal operations on Thursday,” the shelter said in a formal statement. 

The shelter’s director Melissa Griffin-Hobson explained that without community support of the animal shelter, the shelter would never be able to overcome problems related to the distemper outbreak. 

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“As I mentioned, we could have the best practices but if they’re not spaying and neutering their animals, which prevents them from getting out because they’re looking for a mate or vaccinating, then eventually another animal comes into our facility,” Griffin-Hobson said during the press conference. “And we’ll be in this position again. So, you know, we cannot do this without the citizens of Midland.” 

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