LARGO — Pinellas County Animal Services is designed to be a haven for dogs that have often been forced to survive on the street.
However, even at the shelter, there is no guarantee they will be protected from illness, including the common cold — or "kennel cough," in dog speak.
"Just like people get common colds after they go to a doctor's office, dogs can easily get kennel cough here,'' said Alaina Bible, a Pinellas County animal control officer. "It is very contagious."
Once a staff veterinarian has confirmed that the dog has kennel cough, the animal is moved to an isolated area in the far east corner of the facility, said Tyson Youts, the adoption coordinator.
"On one hand, the separate kennel is nice for the dogs because it's a quieter, darker area for them to rest, but we don't like to keep dogs isolated all day,'' Youts said. "It's not mentally healthy for people, and it's not good for dogs either.''
So about three weeks ago, staff and volunteers opened a separate playground just for sick dogs.
Late last week there were 18 adoptable dogs on view at the front of the shelter. While they barked and wagged their tails at visitors, five other dogs were in the isolation kennel recovering from kennel cough.
"Generally, kennel cough is (contagious) for two weeks,'' Bible said. "Fortunately, dogs don't see time like humans do, but still, when they have separation issues, keeping them indoors and isolated causes more anxiety.''
Since the playground opened, volunteers have been making sure the sick pups have a chance to play at least once a day. The dogs are unleashed inside the fenced 1,700-square-foot playground, where they can play fetch, splash in a kiddie pool and "just enjoy being outside,'' Youts said.
As summer approaches, Youts expects the number of sick dogs to increase.
"Kennel cough seems to occur more when we move from dryer to wetter season,'' he said.
The playground will be maintained by volunteers.
"Actually, because of financial matters, we could not have the playground without our volunteers' help,'' said Youts, who added that there is always need for more volunteers, not only to maintain the playground, but also to help out at the front desk, walk dogs and take care of cats.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the shelter, at 12450 Ulmerton Road in Largo, should call (727) 582-2600, ext. 22675.
Piper Castillo can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4163.