The quarantine in Richmond County's Animal Shelter will not end today.
Instead, it will extend into the first full week of September after officials discovered more cases of respiratory disease in four dogs at the closed shelter.
"We had to extend the hold," said Tommy Irvin, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. "We're as anxious as anyone to get that place re-opened, but you can't start bringing more dogs into an area that might create a worse problem than you already have."
Bonnie Bragdon, who began her tenure as the county's Animal Control director on Monday, said she's not sure if the dogs are suffering from distemper - the disease that originally closed the shelter - or kennel cough.
"If you go with the odds, more than likely it's distemper," Dr. Bragdon said.
Regardless, either disease requires a two-week quarantine for the 65 dogs in the shelter. And during those two weeks, officials must not find any new cases of respiratory infection or the quarantine is extended another two weeks.
"I think in the long run this is going to be better," said Gary Wilkes, a veterinarian who has been advising the shelter. "It's time-consuming now, but it's going to be better for them overall."
Distemper first attacks a dog's respiratory system - causing a cough, runny eyes, runny nose, and a fever. It also causes loss of appetite and pneumonia. If the animal survives those symptoms, the disease attacks the central nervous system.
There is no cure for the airborne disease, which has kept the shelter closed since July 24. And shots to boost a dog's immune system might not keep the canine from contracting the disease.
The extension of the quarantine pushes back an inspection officials had planned for today.
Now, Dr. Bragdon, who is a veterinarian, will work with the state Department of Agriculture to develop a plan to stop the outbreak.
"They have been nothing but helpful," she said. "Everyone is working together to try to solve this problem."
Officials are actually looking at a combination of options.
"We have three options when this happens. One, we can quarantine," she said. "No. 2, we test each and every dog for distemper and we remove dogs that are sick or positive for distemper. Or three we put to sleep all the dogs in the facility."
Even if officials wanted to"depopulate" the entire shelter, they could not. There's not enough euthanasia fluid.
"It's back-ordered across the country," she said. "The point of depopulation is moot."
Dr. Bragdon said some animals will be killed, but only the ones for which it is absolutely necessary.
"I'll pick out the certain dogs that have signs and test them," she said.
But even when officials corral the outbreak, the shelter will not be free of distemper outbreaks. Instead, Dr. Bragdon said she hopes to control the size of the outbreaks.
"We're moving toward smaller depopulations," she said.
Mr. Irvin said he met with Dr. Bragdon on Friday in Atlanta to discuss the Richmond County shelter.
"I believe that shelter will be in excellent hands," Mr. Irvin said. "One thing I suggested to her is look at the possibility of seeing if some of that separate space out there could be used for a holding space for those animals put under quarantine. You may have to do that to ever clear that situation up over there."
Dr. Bragdon appeared before the Augusta Commission's Public Safety Committee on Monday afternoon to request $5,000 for interim improvements at the shelter. She said the improvements would help the shelter deal with future outbreaks of disease by creating a separate quarantine area.
The committee unanimously voted to approve the money for paint, exhaust fans and metal doors.
As word of the quarantine extension spread Monday, Columbia County Animal Control Manager Linda Fulmer was taking an afternoon headcount. The shelter had 31 dogs by 4 p.m.
"That's the lowest we've been for quite a while," she said.
But she predicted that number will climb again: At one point, since Richmond County's quarantine started, the shelter had more than 80 dogs.
"We'll just deal with it," she said. "We've been dealing with it. We can stil deal with it."
At the CSRA Humane Society Shelter near Lake Olmstead, there's a waiting list to turn dogs over to the shelter. Executive Director Stacey Plooster said it's full.
"We could put more dogs in each kennel, but we want them to be comfortable," she said, adding the shelter's puppy room should be open soon. "We don't want them to be cramped in their cages."
The Humane Society shelter will be open Wednesday and Saturday for adoptions.
Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.
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