This story has been updated.
An outbreak of the highly contagious canine influenza has forced the Asheville Humane Society to suspend dog adoptions, and no new dogs are being accepted at the county animal shelter.
“The dogs in our care and the pets of our community are our highest priority,” Dr. Chelsea Fogal, medical director at Asheville Humane Society, said in an announcement on the website. “We want to ensure that the dogs we send home are healthy. We also don’t want healthy animals coming in and getting sick. We feel that it is our responsibility to avoid adding new infections in the community.”
The Buncombe County Animal Shelter, located next door to the Humane Society, is the entry point for all strays and pets surrendered by their owners.
“Our community is currently seeing an increased number of dogs with upper respiratory infections,” the website says. “In order to control the spread of infection, Buncombe County Animal Shelter has closed all dog intakes.”
Representatives of the shelter and Humane Society were not immediately available for comment Monday.
Asheville’s Brother Wolf Animal Rescue has taken in about 10 stray dogs that would have gone to the county shelter, said Executive Director Leah Craig Fieser. She said the Humane Society’s dog closure could last through the end of December.
Canine influenza is a treatable, but highly contagious infection. Outbreaks have been detected this year in Texas, California, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, and nasal or eye discharge and can take three to seven days to appear. Canine flu is thought to spread mainly among dogs through respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing or through contact with contaminated surfaces.
Some infected dogs show no symptoms while others can develop pneumonia. While rare, canine flu can be fatal.
Dog owners are advised to keep their dogs home when possible and avoid settings such as dog parks. Dogs showing symptoms should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
There is a vaccine to protect dogs against canine flu, but supply was low or nonexistent at some Asheville veterinarians Monday. The Animal Hospital of North Asheville ran out of the vaccine, and the Charlotte Street Animal Hospital had a waiting list.
Brother Wolf is concerned about the ripple effect on dog adoptions since oftentimes potential adopters already have other dogs, Fieser said. Brother Wolf has the vaccine and is giving it to dogs at the shelter.
“That’s really what we’re working on here, is how can we help our community with this by ensuring that adoptions don’t come to a halt because people are scared,” Fieser said.
Canine flu has been circulating in Buncombe County for several months. “Unfortunately, it is now being experienced at Buncombe County Animal Shelter and Asheville Humane Society,” the website announcement says. “After extensive testing, it was determined to be a strain of canine influenza.”
Lost or stray dogs should not be brought to the shelter, the announcement says.
Instead, “fill out a found pet report on our website, speak with neighbors, visit a business with a microchip scanner, and post their photo on social media. Our website is full of tips to help reunite pets with their owners,” Fogal said. “Additionally, if community members are interested in caring for a stray dog in their home but lack the supplies to do so, they can call us our Community Solutions team at (833) 812-0478 to request basic care items.”
Asheville Humane Society is informing foster families and those who recently adopted dogs about the outbreak.
The Adoption Center remains open for cats and other animals, and the Buncombe County Animal Shelter will continue to take in stray animals other than healthy dogs.
“Asheville Humane Society remains focused on bringing the dogs in their care back into good health,” the announcement said, “and graciously asks for the community’s understanding as they navigate this challenging situation.”
This story has been updated to include comment from the director of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.