County closes animal shelter

Catawba County will temporarily close its Animal Shelter off Highway 321 in Newton, beginning on Wednesday, to allow for a thorough sanitation of the shelter. This decision follows an increasing number of cases of an upper respiratory illness that remains unidentified, in spite of extensive tests and treatment at the shelter and at two animal virus labs.

Catawba County will continue to provide Animal Control Services and the public will still be able to call the shelter to report dangerous situations involving animals. A temporary shelter is being created outdoors near the permanent shelter to house animals until the regular shelter is reopened.

All regular adoptions from the shelter have been temporarily suspended and the shelter will not accept animals surrendered until the sanitation has been complete. The shelter is expected to re-open by Sept. 7.

“We have made this extremely difficult decision, in consultation with our contract veterinarian, to protect the health and safety of the total animal population of Catawba County,” said Jay Blatche, Catawba County’s Animal Services manager. “The action follows an increasing number of cases of an upper respiratory illness that continues to be seen in animals at the shelter. The virus results in high fever, vomiting and diarrhea and has proven very difficult to treat. Animal Services staff, in consultation with the shelter’s veterinarian, have conducted extensive tests to determine the type of virus involved and its source. A wide series of additional tests have been performed at renowned animal virus labs at Cornell University and Oklahoma State University and they have not been able to determine what kind of virus is present, necessitating the total sanitation of the shelter.”

Animals that are housed in the shelter at the time of its closure, all of whom are considered to have been exposed to the illness, will be euthanized.

“One of the aspects of the illness that makes this so difficult is the fact that, after sanitation is complete, none of the animals that are in the shelter before we start sanitizing can be brought back into the shelter,” Blatche said. “Now that we have received the report from the lab tests at Cornell and Oklahoma State and have done everything we can to determine the source and treatment of this virus, our number one priority is to make sure that none of the animals that have been exposed to this virus, or are already showing symptoms, are allowed to re-enter the pet population. Doing so could allow the animals to transfer the virus to other animals, even if they appear to be healthy.”

"The Shelter staff has done a tremendous job at trying to curtail this situation by all other means,” said Dr. Marty Hartsell, the contract veterinarian for the shelter. “The situation is extremely difficult, however, for the safety and health of all animals housed at the Shelter in the future, this appears to be the best course of action with the limited space available."

Blatche said overcrowded conditions in the County’s present shelter, which was opened in 1985, means that outbreaks such as this are always a risk. The County’s shelter does not have an area where incoming animals can be separated and/or treated away from the general population until their health and temperament is assessed prior to adoption.

The kennels in the shelter will undergo a thorough sanitization process that includes cleaning with bleach, detergent, and antimicrobial agents as well as pressure cleaning with hot water. The entire shelter will be cleaned and the heating and air conditioning system will be cleaned and treated.

“We apologize for any inconvenience to citizens while the shelter is closed and we are not taking in any animals from the general public,” Blatche said. “We are working to complete this process as quickly as possible, but our top priority is to make sure the sanitation is successful and that we can safely reopen the shelter and adopt healthy animals to the citizens of Catawba County.”