TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials are denying reports of a deadly parvovirus outbreak at their animal shelter while acknowledging there have been isolated cases there.
Shelter officials are taking those cases seriously and regret instances in which highly contagious parvo went undetected in shelter dogs that subsequently were adopted, a county spokeswoman said. In at least two instances, sick animals were adopted by families with other dogs, threatening their health.
"We are very concerned," county communications director Lori Hudson said. "There is not a parvo outbreak. However, we do recognize that we do need to address the conditions in our animal services shelter."
The county will hold a news conference today at County Center to discuss what is known about parvo cases at the Falkenburg Road shelter near Brandon and what is being done. That will include bringing in some independent outside assistance, Hudson said.
Animal welfare advocates have voiced concerns for much of the summer that overcrowding and overly long stays were causing illnesses at the shelter. The shelter has changed policies in recent months, at the direction of county commissioners, to reduce euthanizations by holding animals longer.
This week came word about parvo. The gastrointestinal tract virus spreads quickly, in part through vomiting and bloody diarrhea that are among its symptoms, and is often fatal even after treatment. It is generally found in dogs, and puppies are particularly susceptible.
Pasco County just reopened its animal shelter, which was closed for a month, after parvo infected eight dogs.
Laura Page, an animal welfare advocate, sent an email to county commissioners Friday alleging at least seven instances of parvo at the Hillsborough shelter and providing case numbers. They included animals who died in their kennels or were unwittingly adopted by families.
Animal Services director Ian Hallett told a Tampa Bay Times reporter Sunday that there had been 14 dogs diagnosed with parvo this month, but said that was typical of summer months. Hudson, the county spokeswoman, said Monday the number is actually lower than last year.
Veterinarians said it is not unusual for animals with parvo to show up at shelters, but said the lack of communication from Animal Services officials about health conditions there is alarming.
"I don't know why they wouldn't have given us a heads up," said Christy Layton, president of the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society.
Brittany Calhoun is wondering the same thing. She and her husband adopted two shepherd-pitbull terrier mix puppies from the Hillsborough shelter about a week ago.
The Calhouns, of St. Petersburg, were excited to introduce Sasha and Sulley to their other two dogs, even after learning Sulley might have an upper respiratory infection. Sulley would turn out to have parvo and, despite treatment, Calhoun was wrapping him in a Scooby Doo blanket a few days later after he stopped breathing and died.
Sasha has since been diagnosed with parvo, though the Calhouns hope it was detected soon enough that she will recover.
"We'll never adopt from there again," Calhoun said. "We'll always adopt versus going to a breeder. But it will take us a lot more time for us to adopt from now on. This has just been a horrible experience."
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.