Houston animal shelter closing for 7 days to stop spread of distemper

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BARC says pet owners who've adopted dogs showing symptoms of distemper can get free treatment, or even return the dogs for a refund. (KTRK)

BARC, the City of Houston's Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, will close animal intake Tuesday, April 10, through Monday, April 16, to address an unusually high presence of upper respiratory illness in the shelter.

While the shelter is closed, BARC has partnered with Rescued Pets Movement, Houston Pets Alive!, and Austin Pets Alive! to encourage as many Houstonians as possible to foster or adopt to protect the shelter's healthy animals from the illness.

"Out of concern for the hundreds of healthy animals who come to BARC each week, as well as BARC's spay and neuter and wellness clinic customers, BARC has decided to take immediate, preemptive measures to isolate the issue," said Greg Damianoff, assistant director for BARC. "Temporarily closing the shelter will allow BARC to focus our resources on treating sick animals, but getting the many healthy and adoptable animals out of BARC and into foster, rescue or adopted homes is also essential."

"We are proud of this unique partnership, and know that together we will be able to save a lot of lives," says Andrea Birkelbach, Executive Director of Houston Pets Alive! "But we really need our community's help to pull this off. We need people to sign up today to foster, so we can get these dogs out of the shelter. Every foster family allows us to help save another life, and donations help us cover the costs of medical treatment for any dogs that are sick."

In recent weeks, BARC officials have noticed a higher than normal amount of symptoms in the animals. They've quarantined dogs who have tested positive for distemper.

WATCH: What we've learned about the BARC distemper cases
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Houston's animal shelter shutting down for week to try to stop spread of illness

Distemper symptoms may include thick nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing. In severe cases, symptoms may impact the neurological system, causing seizures, tremors and death.

Individuals who have adopted dogs within the past 30 days from BARC that show potential symptoms are encouraged to contact the shelter for free medical treatment. BARC will also refund adoptions fees and accept returned animals from those who are unable or unwilling to care for potentially sick animals. This time frame would also include anyone who adopted a dog or cat through the ABC13 Pick Your Pet Adoption Drive on March 23.

BARC's intake, regular wellness programs and spay/neuter clinic will close April 10-16 to allow BARC to:
* Identify, isolate, and treat infected animals
* Carefully monitor healthy but exposed animals for future symptoms

* Ensure that no animals are placed into the community until they are without symptoms or past the incubation period
* Conduct a deep cleaning of the shelter to reduce further contamination
While BARC is closed, BARC's rescue partners, Rescued Pets Movement, Houston Pets Alive!, and Austin Pets Alive! implore members of the community to help the shelter by fostering, adopting healthy animals from the shelter, or donating their funds or time.

Pets available for adoption can be found at http://www.houstontx.gov/barc/, but potential pet owners are encouraged to visit BARC at 3300 Carr Street, Houston 77026 and meet each animal in person. BARC is open for adoptions seven days a week from noon to 5:00 p.m.
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