The Humane Society of Hall County was forced to euthanize most of the animals in its shelter Wednesday in order to control an outbreak of respiratory disease.
Humane Society President Rick Aiken said the illness was a contagious but typically nonfatal virus similar to kennel cough, or bordatella. Ironically, the society recently received a grant to vaccinate incoming animals against bordatella.
"Unfortunately, if an animal comes in and is already incubating the virus, the vaccine doesn’t do any good," Aiken said. "And as a full-service shelter, we can’t turn animals away. We have to take everything that comes in."
Even though the illness is not fatal, and the society provided free treatment for any adopted pet that became ill, Aiken said some were upset about adopting an animal that turned out to be sick.
"We had to make a decision," he said. "Three or four days ago, we started isolating new animals that came in, and only one person could take care of them. Then, all the animals that had not been isolated would be euthanized."
That grim task took place Wednesday, and Aiken said the shelter staff was heartbroken.
"I can promise you, it was not a fun day today," he said. "I’ve been here 19 years, and we’ve never had to do anything like this."He did not even know Wednesday evening exactly how many animals had been euthanized, but he said it was "the majority" of those in the shelter, which typically holds about 250 animals.
Now, the goal is to try to prevent future outbreaks.
"We’ve been in this building seven years and we hadn’t had a thorough cleaning," Aiken said. "We consulted with companies about having all our duct work cleaned out. Stuff builds up over the years."
He said the cleanup of the building should be completed by today, and the Humane Society is still open for business.
"The animals we isolated have been moved up and are available for adoption," he said. "They are all vaccinated and have not been exposed (to the illness)."
Last year, the animal shelter in Habersham County was temporarily closed by the state agriculture department due to a parvovirus outbreak. Aiken said the Hall County agency made its decision without any intervention from the state. He wants the public to understand that the Humane Society is trying to be proactive.
"Our biggest fear is that people will panic and not want to adopt from us," he said. "But that will make things even worse. Fewer adoptions means having to euthanize even more animals."