SHERIDAN — For seven years, the Sheridan Dog and Cat Shelter has been raising funds to build a puppy nursery to give young animals a safer place to stay at the shelter. With a recent $10,000 donation from a local foundation — that includes a challenge to raise a matching $10,000 from supporters — shelter staff believe this may be the year the puppy nursery becomes a reality.
“When the shelter was built it was such a great improvement over the previous shelter,” Executive Director Cel Hope said. “But one thing that was not done was to have a place to keep young animals away from the population that comes and goes in stray area.”
The problem that puppies encounter in the stray animal area is contact with a highly contagious virus that can live in soil, cracks in the concrete and under flaked paint for years. Called parvo virus in puppies — and panleukopenia in kittens — the virus is fatal for young animals who haven’t had time to develop immunity.
Shelter staff clean and bleach shelter facilities every morning, but parvo virus is difficult to completely kill, Hope said. Older animals can carry the virus, even though they are immune, and shed it at any time. Humans can also carry the virus on their shoes as they come and go.
“Puppies get it just — bang — because they have no immune system yet,” Hope said. “And it’s fatal, unless you can get to a vet immediately and get on expensive IV treatment. The puppies here don’t have a chance.”
Hope said the virus can hit overnight. Puppies and kittens can be bouncing around one day and be sick — or dead — the next. Symptoms include high fever, severe diarrhea and lethargy. A blood test can confirm the prognosis, but by then it’s often too late.
“It breaks our hearts when puppies die. It’s really hard on staff when you lose a puppy that you’ve worked so hard for,” Hope said.
Puppies under 12 weeks old are the most at risk, especially if they haven’t nursed with their mother who passes some immunities in her milk.
The shelter gives a series of three vaccines one month apart starting at 8 weeks old. Puppies and kittens aren’t considered fully protected until three weeks after the third vaccine, meaning they are 4 or 5 months old before they can reasonably resist the virus.
The puppy nursery will be built separate from the shelter building on the side opposite from the stray animal area. It will consist of two indoor heated spaces with doggie doors to separate run areas. It will be designed to be almost impervious to the virus, Hope said, and easy to clean.
Puppies will stay in the puppy nursery until they are adopted out. When there are no puppies at the shelter, the area will be used to house small dogs such as chihuahuas and dotsons who get stressed — and thus sick — with the bigger dogs. The puppy nursery will be deep cleaned on the arrival of any puppies.
Hope expects upkeep costs to be low — just heat and light — and said having an easier place to clean up after the puppies will be a more efficient use of staff time.
Currently the shelter receives two or three litters of puppies per year, in addition to individual puppies. It tries to foster puppies out to prevent exposure to parvo virus, but it can be challenging to foster entire litters of puppies. Hope expects the shelter will house many more puppies once the nursery is built.
When Hope took her position seven years ago, she began raising money for the puppy nursery. As the recession worsened, however, fundraising slowed and hit a standstill at approximately $50,000. Bids for building the nursery came in at $65,000.
On May 31, a representative from a local foundation — which wishes to remain anonymous at this time — called the shelter to say the foundation had wanted to make a sizable donation for some time and decided to support the puppy nursery.
It offered $10,000, with hopes that a matching amount could be raised by the shelter, giving them $5,000 extra to cover any overages.
The shelter hopes to have the puppy nursery built before winter hits.
For more information, call the Sheridan Dog and Cat Shelter at 674-7694 or visit dogandcatshelter.org.