BROOKSVILLE — All was quiet Tuesday in pen No. B-18 at the Hernando County Animal Services facility. A plaque pinned to the outside gate described the seven male Shih Tzus that had lived there the past month.
In the adjacent pen, three healthy Shih Tzus vied for a visitor's attention, jumping excitedly against the metal gate, hoping to attract an outstretched hand.
For animal control supervisor Patrick Pace, the disparate scenes underscored the anguish among staffers since an outbreak of parvovirus over the weekend killed 38 of the 64 Shih Tzus that the shelter had hoped to begin adopting this week.
"It's just horrible," Pace said. "The staff has worked so hard at getting the dogs ready to send to good, loving homes. It just breaks your heart to see something like this."
As a result of the outbreak, plans to adopt the remaining 26 dogs have been put on hold at least until January to prevent spreading the virus or giving a family a pet that could later develop symptoms. The shelter received more than 260 adoption applications for the dogs.
The rapid spread of the virus took shelter workers by surprise, Pace said. Most of the Shih Tzus that were found abandoned Nov. 18 at the end of a dead end road east of Brooksville suffered from malnutrition, skin ailments and other health problems. None had symptoms of parvovirus until Sunday when kennel workers arrived to find three of the dogs dead in their pens.
A quick check of the remaining population showed that dozens more showed symptoms of the virus. Dogs that tested positive for parvovirus were euthanized, Pace said.
"It's quick and very deadly," Pace said. "It's tough to control because it spreads so fast. Our biggest concern right now is keeping it from getting into the rest of the kennel population."
Animal services veterinarian Dr. Welch Agnew said that although the virus is prevalent, most dogs with normal immune systems can fight off the disease.
Pace said the shelter was overwhelmed with the sudden acquisition of 64 dogs. For the past several weeks shelter workers have been ferrying the dogs to local groomers and veterinarians who volunteered their services, including spaying and neutering the dogs.
Although all the dogs had been evaluated and were being treated for any medical issues, none had received vaccinations for parvovirus, Pace said.
"It was a mistake to not have done it sooner," said Pace. "We've got a tight budget, but that's something I think we need to change in the future."
As a result of the outbreak, all of the animals at the shelter have been vaccinated for parvovirous.
Agnew said the mortality rate for parvovirus in shelters can be higher than 90 percent. Symptoms include a fast onset of fever, vomiting, hemorrhagic diarrhea, dehydration and death. Direct or secondary contact with an infected animal or feces can spread the virus. Rodents or insects can also spread it.
"It's very difficult to treat," Agnew said. "Preventing it is by far the best way to deal with it."
Shelter workers spent Monday scrubbing down the entire kennel facility with a bleach solution. The Shih Tzus will remain quarantined until they are ready to be adopted.
It's still unknown where the dogs came from, but authorities suspect a puppy mill.
In the meantime, anyone who adopted a pet from Hernando County Animal Services in the past 14 days should contact a veterinarian and monitor their pets for symptoms of the virus.
For information, call Hernando County Animal Services at (352) 796-5062.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]