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The death toll has hit nine as canine distemper has struck the Verde Valley Humane Society in Cottonwood. 


VVHS Shelter Manager Angie Hare said that dog patient zero had not been identified at the shelter but one of two dogs could have led to the outbreak.

The first was a stray showing signs of a different disease and was sent back with antibiotics while a second dog brought in from reservation land was showing symptoms of distemper and was quite ill.  

Six dogs were originally suspected of the virus based on symptoms, with one testing positive. All were put down. Fifteen more were quarantined and three tested positive in that batch and were also euthanized. Others in the group tested for what Hare believes are vaccine positives, where the distemper vaccine triggered the positive result. Test results were still pending for two dogs as of Wednesday, March 9.

Containment will be ongoing until those results are in. Hare said VVHS expects to be under quarantine until Wednesday, March 16. Volunteer access and other precautions will still be in place.

Quarantine protocols are in place for this sometimes fatal disease to prevent its spread into the general pet population. Currently, no dogs in the public-adoption facility display symptoms of the virus and are still available for viewing.

The lockdown period was handled a month before information was released, Hare said, because VVHS “didn’t know how long this was going to last and how bad it was going to get.”

VVHS is managing the outbreak using recommendations of local veterinarians and the University of California Davis website. There is a vaccine protocol in place for all dogs the day they enter the shelter. The society is asking animal control to take in animals normally brought to it. Stray dogs will not be taken in from the public.

Humane Society of Sedona was asked for assistance in taking in strays, but Hare said the Sedona society was dealing with a less-serious outbreak of its own and could not. As of press time, Humane Society of Sedona did not return a call on the subject.


Update: The Humane Society of Sedona has responded to the report that it, too, had an outbreak, causing the inability of it accepting strays from Yavapai Animal Control normally given to Verde Valley Humane Society. It has stated the primary reason it could not accept more dogs was space restrictions. Read the full Humane Society Sedona story in the Wednesday, March 16, edition of the Sedona Red Rock News.


Hare said that dog owners should check with their veterinarian to ensure their dogs have been vaccinated, even if they do not interact with other animals. She added all vaccinations should be up-to-date for each pet.

In order to perform all proper testing and vaccination, VVHS is asking for donations to control the outbreak. It also asks that those able to foster do so. Call the shelter at 634-7387.

Canine distemper cannot be spread to humans nor cats. It can be spread through dogs and wildlife such as fox, coyote, skunks and raccoons. Animals who have the disease may have symptoms including fever, coughing, lack of appetite, pneumonia, difficulty breathing and nasal and ocular discharge, according to the VVHS release.

Going forward, VVHS will continue to test dogs the day they arrive. It had not done so in the past, instead waiting three days,  because, “We weren’t sure if the owners were going to come back for them or if the owners would be upset that we vaccinated them and they didn’t want it,” Hare said.

Now, owners picking up dogs dropped off at the society will have to pay for the vaccine regardless.

The shelter will also not accept dogs that appear sick from now on, and will instead refer them to a veterinary clinic to be tested first.

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