Failure to isolate & vaccinate incoming animals shuts shelter
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
LAS VEGAS–A six-member Humane Society of the U.S. shelter
evaluation team in mid-February 2007 joined Lied Animal Shelter staff
in euthanizing more than 1,000 of the 1,800 animals in custody.
About 150 of the animals were ill, and 850 were believed to
have been exposed to the illnesses, with a high likelihood of
“It has been a mess, but we are almost out of the emergency
phase. Adoptions will open again soon,” Animal Foundation of Nevada
president Janie Greenspun Gale told ANIMAL PEOPLE on February 19.
Gale promised to identify a newly hired executive director for the
The Animal Foundation operates the Lied Animal Shelter,
which houses animals for the city of Las Vegas, Clark County, and
North Las Vegas.
The evaluation team, headed by HSUS director of animal
sheltering Kim Intino, found both parvovirus and distemper among the
holding kennels for incoming dogs, and discovered panleukopenia
among the incoming cats.
University of California at Davis shelter medicine program
chief Kate Hurley, who was one of two veterinarians on the HSUS
inspection team, also identified a bacterial infection that caused a
fatal hemorrhagic pneumonia. This “had not been documented in a
shelter before,” Hurley told Steve Friess of The New York Times.
“There was some uncertainty of how to best manage the bacterial
infection and what best to do,” Hurley said. “We were in new
territory, and found it in both cats and dogs.”
As well as participating in the Lied Animal Shelter
evaluation, Hurley was in Las Vegas to present a daylong seminar on
shelter disease outbreaks at the Western Veterinary Conference.
“Although shelter officials were not aware of problems,”
wrote Mike Kalil of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “the HSUS team
noticed dogs and cats suffering from serious respiratory and
intestinal diseases shortly after it arrived.”
“We didn’t realize this was happening,” affirmed Lied Animal
Shelter manager Diane Orgill.
“Vets found a much lower rate of disease in the approximately
800 dogs and cats in Lied’s adoption park,” Kalil reported.
“Infected animals were concentrated in the shelter’s intake area,
where at any time about 1,000 animals typically spend three to 10
days,” awaiting reclaim, sterilization surgery, or euthanasia,
based on veterinary and behavioral assessment.
Orgill acknowledged that overcrowding “undoubtedly hastened
the spread of disease,” Kalil wrote.
“The number of animals we have increases the chances of this
happening,” Orgill said.
Originally handling only Las Vegas animals, the Lied Animal
Shelter opened in February 2001. The Lied management almost
immediately came under intensive criticism for purportedly killing
incoming animals too quickly, after an incident in which a child’s
dog was euthanized by accident.
The shelter was expanded two years later to also hold the
Clark County animals.
Las Vegas and Clark County animal control were handled for
many years before 1995 by Dewey Animal Care, a for-profit
veterinary contractor that still serves some Las Vegas suburbs.
Dewey killed most incoming animals soon after arrival, as did most
U.S. animal control shelters.
As there was no anticipation that many animals would be in
longterm care, and therefore at risk of catching diseases from
constant exposure to newcomers, shelters built before recent years
usually did not incorporate the extensive isolation and quarantine
facilities that are now standard in shelter planning.
Until under 15 years ago, the most common reason for
quarantining shelter animals was to see if a dog who had bitten
someone might be rabid. The quarantine time in such a case was
typically two weeks, but shelter designers rarely anticipated that a
shelter would have more than a few dogs in quarantine at any given
Quarantining cats did not become a routine consideration
until ambitions of no-kill sheltering spread in the mid-1990s.
Recognition gradually followed that keeping healthy cats in large
numbers requires quarantining new arrivals to avoid the spread of
upper respiratory infections of all sorts, to which cats are much
more susceptible than dogs.
The Animal Foundation of Nevada, founded by Mary Herro to
perform high-volume, low-cost dog and cat sterilization, debuted in
1988 in a former shelter building owned by the city of Las Vegas,
predating the Dewey contract. The much-emulated clinic has
sterilized more than 200,000 dogs and cats.
The Animal Foundation took over first the Las Vegas shelter
contract and then the Clark County contract at request of elected
officials, Herro told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Both jobs proved bigger than
Seeking a successor and trying to retire for several years,
Herro amid the 2001 controversy turned the Animal Foundation over to
Gale, whose family long owned the Las Vegas Sun. The rival
Review-Journal was usually first to expose issues involving the
Animal Foundation, often raised by other humane organizations.
The Sun is now published as a Review-Journal insert–but
while friction between competing news media affecting Animal
Foundation coverage may have diminished, other local humane
organizations are not less critical.
“Sheltering is all about disease control,” Las Vegas Valley
Humane Society president Karen Layne reminded Friesse, of the New
York Times. According to Friesse, Layne alleged that “Gale and
other shelter officials simply thought disease was a normal part of
running a shelter.”
“This is unforgivable in light of the fact that it was
absolutely preventable,” Heaven Can Wait Sanctuary legal counsel
Holly Stoberski told Associated Press. “They were not properly
vaccinating the dogs and cats in a timely manner.”
Gale “tearfully faced critics at a hastily called public
meeting,” Friesse wrote, and acknowledged that the Lied Animal
Shelter animal intake policies had been misguided. “Gale said her
organization had been operating the shelter like a rescue operation
and had not been euthanizing enough animals to keep the space safe
and sanitary for the adoptable ones,” Friesse summarized.
“Our policies were written to save every animal we possibly
could,” Gale told Friesse.
“Our problems became unmanageable,” Gale told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“when we began getting 200 or more animals every day. We scrambled
for space, even though we built a shelter three times larger than the
new one we built five years ago, but still the issue of space and
[finding enough] vets to do [both] high-volume spay/neuter [and
shelter disease control] were our Waterloo.”
The central conflict between public expectations and what the
Animal Foundation could do had escalated for years.
Explained Gale to ANIMAL PEOPLE in a September 2002 e-mail,
“The major criticism we encounter is that early on, based on the
‘no-kill city’ definition we understood from publications such as
yours, we said we wanted to make Las Vegas a no-kill city, with our
new [adoption] shelter as the beginning of the process. Now all the
other groups throw that at us, saying we are not no-kill, and we are
perpetrating a fraud on the community.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE reminded Gale in response that, “The
now-defunct No-Kill Directory and all literature for the No-Kill
Conference series, 1995-2001, always carried on page one the
phrase, ‘Implicit to the No-Kill philosophy is the reality of
exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane
alternative available.’ Those exceptional situations include
irrecoverable illness or injury, dangerous behavior, and/or the
need to decapitate an animal who has bitten someone, in order to
perform rabies testing.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE also warned Gale that the humane society
mission of trying to save every animal, limited only by donor
generosity, is inherently incompatible with the animal control
mandate of protecting the public, limited by what taxpayers are
collectively willing to support. Guiding both the Lied Animal
Shelter and the Animal Foundation successfully, ANIMAL PEOPLE
advised, would require building a firewall between their respective
roles, to avoid having animal control issues jeopardize humane
Shorter holding time
Suspending most routine shelter operations for a week to cope
with the emergency, the Lied Animal Shelter reopened with a pledge
to hold animals deemed unadoptable for only 72 hours on the chance
that they might be reclaimed.
“We are not abandoning our principles,” Gale emphasized.
“We are just being more vigilant in identifying unadoptable animals
and letting go of them earlier. The others will have 120 days to
find homes, and rescues are always welcome.”
Animal Foundation spokesperson Mark Fierro said the Lied
Animal Shelter would also begin vaccinating all incoming animals
against the most common serious shelter diseases, as recommended by
HSUS, and already practiced by progressive shelters worldwide,
including several that ANIMAL PEOPLE recently visited in India.
The Lied Animal Shelter either adopted or returned to homes
12,079 dogs and 6,279 cats in 2006, killing 7,065 dogs and 16,492
cats. The Las Vegas area rate of shelter killing was approximately
12.3 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in 2006, slightly below the U.S.
average of 14.8, and down by about a third since the Animal
Foundation took the Las Vegas animal control contract.
But the Lied Animal Shelter also lost 3,652 animals,
including 1,105 dogs and 2,280 cats, to illness and other causes of
death besides lethal injection.
Shelter losses to “illness and other” are normally a
negligible percentage of intake. For example, all shelters in the
state of Virginia combined lost just 697 dogs and 1,455 cats to
“illness and other” in 2006, out of 96,875 dogs and 86,953 cats
Other shelters hit
However, the Lied Animal Shelter disease outbreaks were
scarcely unprecedented–just unusual because of how large they were
and how long they apparently festered.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis in January 2007 stopped
accepting kittens for two weeks after receiving nine cats who were
suffering from feline panleukopenia.
Indianapolis Animal Care & Control meanwhile was reportedly
overwhelmed when just one individual surrendered 60 cats who had
symptoms of upper respiratory illnesses.
The Hillsborough County Depart-ment of Animal Services, in
St. Petersburg, Florida, suspended adoptions in October 2006 after
six dogs developed symptoms of canine distemper. Two dogs died, two
were euthanized, and two were treated. All 305 dogs at the shelter
were vaccinated against distemper.
The Cheyenne Animal Shelter reopened in early May 2006 after
euthanizing 42 dogs due to canine influenza and closing for a month
of cleaning and reorganizing procedures. Shelter director Alan Cohen
instituted a four-day quarantine before incoming dogs are allowed to
mingle with the general population.
Despite the quarantine and other new precautions, 19 dogs at
the shelter developed canine influenza in early February 2007,
forcing the shelter to close until March 2.
None of the sick dogs will be euthanized this time, Cohen
told Associated Press.
“One of the biggest differences this time is that everyone’s
knowledge level is a little bit higher,” Cohen said. The recovery
rate from canine flu, Cohen said he had learned, is believed to be
more than 90%.