Chicago Dog Flu: Its chilling effect on the dog rescue community

Chicago Dog Flu: Its chilling effect on the dog rescue community
Volunteer Candy Staros, left, holds Scarlet, a puppy with dog flu, as veterinarian Melissa Newberg examines her at PAWS of Tinley Park. Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Today is a gorgeous spring day for The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Bark in the Park. Unfortunately, Chicago’s oldest pet-friendly fundraiser has gone virtual - iBark int he Park - this year thanks to the outbreak of the Chicago Dog Flu. The Canine Influenza in Chicago has done much more than get pets sick, it’s set back fundraising, adoption and rescue efforts throughout our area.

Thanks to the Chicago dog flu outbreak, rescues have cancelled adoption events and many other fundraisers have been cancelled, postponed or become non-pet friendly events. The cancellation of adoption events has hit rescues the hardest…they haven’t been out with dogs to meet potential adopters, which has cut down on the number of adoptions and means fewer new dogs are getting rescued.

Hitting shelters

The past few weeks, it looked like things were calming down. The number of cases coming into veterinary clinics had stabilized or dropped. Then, the other shoe dropped. The highly contagious dog flu hit shelters and it spread like wildfire at some larger facilities.

Cinnamon, a dog with the dog flu at PAWS in Tinley Park, receives a "percussion treatment." Shelter works are patting on her lungs and chest to loosen mucus. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Cinnamon, a dog with the dog flu at PAWS in Tinley Park, receives a "percussion treatment." Shelter works are patting on her lungs and chest to loosen mucus. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

For those that still don’t comprehend why this illness – although highly treatable – is such a big deal and a big threat…this is the case in point. Dogs who have been exposed to the dog flu are contagious for several days prior to showing symptoms. That is why best advice to keep your pet safe has been to isolate your dog or dogs until the threat has passed.

That’s why I’m surprised that the dog flu hasn’t hit shelters sooner. In a shelter environment, it just takes one dog that appears healthy to be contagious and Boom…the whole shelter goes down. The germs also live on clothes and your body for hours after exposure…making the dog flu a traveling petri dish even if you isolate new dogs the minute they walk in the door.

Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) has basically been on lockdown now for over a week. The South Suburban Humane Society (SSHS) in Chicago Heights and PAWS in Tinley Park have also been hit hard by the Chicago dog flu and forced them to close for intake and adoptions until it passes. The Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge also says on their website that they’re closed due to the outbreak of the flu.

Dogs at PAWS in Tinley Park are getting Chicken soup and nebulizer treatments. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Dogs at PAWS in Tinley Park are getting Chicken soup and nebulizer treatments. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

At SSHS, a few cases quickly became 60. At PAWS in Tinley Park, 40 of 45 dogs were suspected as sick with the dog flu. It’s been a course of chicken soup, liver sausage, Pedialyte, nebulizers and TLC as volunteers and workers at those organizations work to get the dogs back to health. Across the kennels, the hacking of dogs echos.

At CACC, adoptions have stopped and rescues are not allowed to pull dogs unless those dogs are going into foster care in homes that don’t currently have a dog or dogs. If you’re not involved in the rescue community, you may not think it’s a big deal because the dog flu will pass, right? But, it is a big deal.

The true effect on rescue

CACC, SSHS and AWL are all open access shelters. That means that when they run out of space, dogs and cats are euthanized to make room for more homeless pets. It’s spring and moving season and it also becomes dumping time at those facilities for people that move on and don’t take their pets with them. More strays are on the street and coming into the organizations this time of year too.

With the shelters on lockdown, that means rescues aren’t pulling dogs and that dogs are not getting adopted. When space doesn’t open up, someone dies…it is just that simple.

The dog flu has had quite the domino effect at many pet business too. While veterinary clinics were slammed with the flu, many other pet owners postponed trips to the vet so as to not put their dog or cat in the line of fire. A few clinics closed or stop taking new cases due to outbreaks. Doggy day care and kennels also closed temporarily to prevent the spread of the dog flu. In a pet-friendly business environment like Chicagoland, the effect has been chilling.

Young at Heart Pet Rescue will be holding their Mutt Mosey without live dogs to keep pets safe from the dog flu. Photo Courtesy of Young at Heart Pet Rescue.

Young at Heart Pet Rescue will be holding their Mutt Mosey without live dogs to keep pets safe from the dog flu. Photo Courtesy of Young at Heart Pet Rescue.

Which brings us back to the rescues. There are many very cool pet-friendly fundraisers that have had to make a judgment call to cancel (like Bark in the Park), postpone or go on without dogs. Some of the more popular dog events that have been postponed or changed include the Midwest Dachshund Rescues Cross Town Bark Around (and weiner races), which moved from May 16th to Father’s Day weekend. Young At Heart’s Mutt Mosey will be going on that same weekend without dogs.

If you’d like to read more about the dog flu and it’s effect on Chicago, I suggest reading my fellow blogger Steve Dale’s coverage. I have been pretty quiet on the issue because I work at a clinic and we’ve been dealing with protocol changes and getting our own word out…blogging has taken a back seat.

If you don’t have a dog and can take in a dog for the short term – on or two weeks – reach out to some of Chicago’s rescues. They’d love to step in and pull dogs before time runs out. And, if you have a dog, remember there are worse things than being on doggy social lockdowns.

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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