In recent months, the Carver Scott Humane Society has joined other humane societies and animal shelters in finding ways to provide services while combating the canine influenza outbreak in the Twin Cities region.
According to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, canine influenza is a “contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by Type A influenza virus.”
Symptoms are quite similar to the human flu, said Ashley Liddell, certified veterinary technician and CSHS canine foster coordinator and intake coordinator. She said the disease most often spreads through dog-to-dog contact but can also “hang out in the air for a little bit” due to it being viral.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced in an April 6 press release that it had quarantined an animal shelter organization with locations in Anoka, Hennepin and Washington counties after reporting nearly 200 sick dogs. Four cases of canine influenza have been confirmed out of the 200, with the other 196 still listed as suspected.
Data from the board also reported a case in Anoka County, one in Carver County, one in Ramsey County and 23 in Hennepin County this year as of May 16.
CSHS was made aware of the initial outbreak around late March or early April, Liddell said.
The humane society has not seen any canine influenza cases throughout this outbreak season. Liddell said CSHS is lower-risk for exposure due to how it cares for dogs — through a foster-based system instead of hosting them directly at the Chaska location.
“The nice thing is that our dogs basically come through intake, and they go directly to foster homes,” she said. “Shelter settings are wonderful, and they’re able to help a lot of dogs. But the only downside to that is that there are a lot more dogs within capacity of each other, so it’s easy for diseases to spread.”
While dogs are not kept at the humane society, they and their owners or fosters do occasionally visit for veterinary services. Liddell said CSHS has taken measures to ensure the smallest likelihood of the disease spreading in its building.
This entails having owners or fosters carry smaller dogs directly into the vetting room.
“We don’t really have them wandering around. We don’t have them walking all around off their leash and sniffing everywhere because there is that potential of the virus lingering either on the floor or in the air. We’re trying to accommodate it by bringing them directly into the room, and they stay in the room,” Liddell said.
Even with open hours, CSHS has also been trying to limit the number of dog visits each day and space out the ones who do come in.
Event participation has also started to be compromised. The humane society had to cancel its adoption event at the Hoppy Races event in Waconia May 6.
Summer is a popular time for adoptions, Liddell said, as well as adoption events and community outreach. With the season approaching, she said there are future concerns about how the disease could impact CSHS’ dog adoption rates.
“Since we’re new into this outbreak, it hasn’t been detrimental to us, but I do honestly think that if this goes on for two or three months and it gets worse, that could be really severe,” she said.
Liddell added that not being able to participate in these events can also be detrimental to the dogs’ mental and social states.
“It’s kind of like COVID,” she said. “We were all cooped up for so long, so you have to wonder, ‘How lonely are these dogs? Are they getting the enrichment they need? Are they getting the socialization that they need?’ In the future, that’s the worry I would have if this continues all through the summer.”
For dog owners and fosters living in the metro area, Liddell advised people to “be smart, but don’t worry.” She said more precautions should be taken for those caring for higher-risk dogs — seniors, young puppies and those with underlying health conditions.
“I would say across the board — whether your animal is old, young, healthy, sick — I would say just be mindful right now of maybe not going to the dog park and maybe not bringing your dog into a pet store like you normally would,” she said.
Liddell additionally advised that people be mindful about keeping their dogs more distanced and not coming into close contact with other random dogs for the time being.
“I’m hoping this resolves relatively quickly,” she said. “At the end of the day, we still want these dogs to be happy and have a good life … so I think for now, we’re just taking it day by day. I’m hoping it kind of dies down over the next month here and runs its course.”