Deadly Dog Virus at Buddy Shelter, but Cecil County, Citizens Not Told; County Imposes Belated Quarantine but Shelter Kept Open
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
The animal shelter operated by A Buddy for Life, Inc. under contract with the Cecil County government has had at least three cases of a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus—resulting in two deaths—but kept it a secret from county officials and citizens who continued to visit the Elkton facility and could have carried the virus home to their own pets.
And in an unrelated matter, the Buddies cut back their hours of operation for the public from 39 hours to just 24 hours a week and the shelter is closed entirely on Mondays, as of this week, because the County Council refused to give the Buddies an extra $11,600 above their current $300,000 six months extension of a former $2.24 million three year contract. The county administration approved the service cutbacks of 15 hours per week, even though the Buddies had not officially signed their latest contract with the county that expires on 6/30/201, according to documents obtained by CECIL TIMES. And that level of significant service cutbacks does not appear to correlate to the relatively small requested but denied additional amount of county subsidy.
A “third party” informed county officials of the outbreak of the “canine parvovirus” (also known as CPV or just ‘parvo’), with the result that on 3/4/2016, the county issued a written notice requiring a two-week quarantine of an upstairs area at the rented shelter where the Buddies hold “rescue” dogs that have completed a five business days county-paid holding period for strays. The parvo infections occurred in the upstairs area which has no running water and where dogs are confined in wire or plastic crates. The county allowed the downstairs area, where there are fixed kennels housing strays still under the county-paid holding period, to remain open to the public.
The first symptoms of parvo were diagnosed on 2/24/2016, according to a belated “incident report” from the Buddies that was demanded by the county on 3/4/2016 after it learned of the problems from the unidentified “third party.” According to the report, that dog died of the virus, another dog infected at the shelter was euthanized, and a third infected dog was “quarantined” off-site at the clinic operated by Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian who is the leading advocate and sponsor of the Buddies, and the dog was expected to survive. (Sources have told CECIL TIMES that Carletti draws a regular paycheck from the Buddies under the group’s county contract, and she has told a former citizen oversight panel that she is only on site at the shelter one day a week, on Tuesdays.) The Buddies’ belated parvo report to the county claimed that Carletti vaccinated and examined the original infected dog on a Friday.
In addition, sources tell Cecil Times that yet another dog, which was transferred to a private “rescue” group, was also infected but the rescue group tested it immediately, found parvo infection, and was able to treat the dog successfully.
The parvo virus can be prevented in most dogs with a combination preventative vaccination, but puppies and unvaccinated dogs are particularly susceptible. Parvo virus outbreaks in animal shelters are not uncommon, since many strays have not been previously vaccinated. An Internet search engine review shows news reports of shelters across the country closed down for up to two weeks—the usual incubation period for symptoms to show up—to disinfect a facility and protect the public from possible cross-contamination. Parvo can be transmitted to other dogs from shoes or clothing worn by humans, but humans cannot become infected themselves.
But in the Cecil County case, neither the Buddies nor the county government advised the public, contrary to guidelines set forth by the internationally renowned University of California-Davis’ Koret Shelter Medicine program. Those guidelines insist that “The presence of cases of CPV in the shelter should be communicated to local veterinarians and to the public” so that proper precautions and treatment with IV fluids, antibiotics and supportive care of dogs post-adoption can be taken. In addition, the Koret program notes that the parvo virus can remain infectious for 6 months to a year after its first manifestation, including transmission from infected soil or shedded fur.
Indeed, the county government did not even inform or consult with Dr. Alan McCarthy (R-1), the vice president of the Cecil County Council who is also a licensed veterinarian. Asked by Cecil Times if the administration of County Executive Tari Moore had told him about the parvo outbreak or asked for his expert advice on how to handle the matter, McCarthy replied, “No, not at all.” McCarthy paid an unannounced visit to the Buddies shelter in the past and pronounced it a “mess” with evidence of poor sanitation and medical problems with animals housed there. After that pronouncement, Moore has kept the veterinarian/ County Councilor out of the loop as she has moved in secret to develop a new animal control program.
Sources told CECIL TIMES about the parvo outbreak, and only after we questioned county government officials about the issue were relevant documents made available.
Those documents include a letter to the Buddies from county attorney Jason Allison, specifying a remedial action plan, a county-required “incident report” from the Buddies on the parvo outbreak, and a disinfection program. From the documents, it is clear the county government tried to make the best of a bad situation, imposing multiple restrictions on the Buddies during a two- week belated quarantine period.
Among the conditions imposed in Allison’s letter were detailed instructions to try to isolate the many “rescue” dogs confined to crates on the second floor of the Buddies’ rented shelter, such as requiring dogs needing to go outside for potty breaks to be carried or led on outside stairs to an outdoor area, not coming into contact with the first floor of the facility. The conditions imposed in the letter sound good, but given the physical layout of the second floor where there is no running water or direct outdoor access for animals, full compliance would appear to be unlikely at best.
The county letter also banned the Buddies from taking into the shelter any owner-surrendered animals for the duration of the two week quarantine period. According to other multi-year records submitted to the county and obtained by CECIL TIMES, the majority of animals coming into the Buddies’ shelter are from owner-surrenders or citizens finding strays on their property– and NOT strays taken into custody by the Buddies’ two animal control officers. So that means that the majority of animals needing shelter in the county will be blocked during the county quarantine period.
A key problem in the parvo situation is that the rented Buddy shelter on Hutton Road in Elkton lacks separate medical “quarantine” areas or puppy nurseries where vulnerable animals can be physically isolated from other animals or citizens visiting the facility. (The former county animal control contractor, the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. shelter in Chesapeake City, had multiple isolation and quarantine areas closed to other animals and the public on a routine basis to protect vulnerable puppies and visitors from potential illness or contamination.)
Allison told Cecil Times that the county government would have a meeting with the Buddies next week, on Monday, to review compliance with the county’s directives, sanitation protocols and an update on the parvo outbreak. The county is demanding that all animals housed on the second floor of the facility be tested for parvo.
Meanwhile, the Buddies posted on their Facebook page this week that, effective on Tuesday 3/8/2016, the animal shelter would be cutting back on its hours of operation and public services. The new schedule has the shelter closed entirely on Mondays—which is normally the most busy day at shelters after a weekend when strays may show up in neighborhoods. The new schedule cuts back services to county residents and animals from 39 hours per week to just 24 hours per week—a 15 hour cutback.
In an email to CECIL TIMES, Allison justified the hours cutback because the County Council did not give the Buddies an extra $11,600 that was requested by Moore after her $300,000 unilateral, unapproved by the County Council extension of the Buddies’ past contract. Council members said they refused to exceed their previously approved budget, and since many county departments and agencies had to live within tighter budgets, the Buddies contractor should absorb the reductions. But Moore’s approval of the reduced service levels suggests that the Buddies do not have to cut their own spending but can keep their own payroll while cutting services to citizens.