Harlan County Animal Shelter closed due to virus outbreak

BAXTER, Ky. (WYMT) - An Eastern Kentucky animal shelter is closed to drop-offs, after at least 20 dogs showed signs of distemper.

Animal Control officials say in June, someone left a raccoon in front of the Harlan County Animal Shelter.

"That's where the problems started," said Duncan Caldwell, the Animal Control Officer for Harlan County.

Shelter officials say the raccoon probably carried an airborne virus which is deadly to dogs, called distemper. They say the raccoon then gave it to many of the dogs in the animal shelter.

"They lose their appetite. They start getting the green goo in their eyes. Then they get the runny nose, sneezing, and from there it just progresses and gets worse," Caldwell said.

Animal control officials tested three dogs who showed symptoms of the virus, and they all tested positive. The animal shelter has been closed for more than a week and will re-open only when the building is completely clean and all dogs with the virus who cannot recover have been euthanized.

"All I ask is be patient. We are working very diligently to get everything under control and getting back to the process of accepting animals," said Caldwell.

County officials say more manpower will be used to clean the building as fast as possible.

"To be on the safe side, we're going to be sure. We're going to take our time, because if we go back in to soon, we will end up with animals getting sick again because we didn't get all of the virus out of the building," said Joe Grieshop, the Harlan County Judge Executive.

Shelter officials say you can help your own pets stay healthy by making sure they are up to date on their vaccinations. They also say if your animals start showing symptoms, get them checked out right away.

Animal Control officials say the shelter should be open in up to 30 days.

For emergencies involving animals, you should call the Judge Executive's office at (606) 573-2600. They say you can also call local law enforcement.

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