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June 2012
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Five dogs die of heatstroke at animal shelter

BY LAUREN P. DUNCANlduncan@paducahsun.com

Five dogs that were found dead at the McCracken County Animal Shelter Monday morning died of heatstroke.

A preliminary report for necropsies, or autopsies performed on animals, for the five dogs found dead at the shelter at 6:45 a.m. Monday shows the five pit bulls or pit bull mixes likely died of heatstroke or exhaustion due to weather or temperature conditions. The report was done by the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville.

The five dogs were housed in separate pens inside a premaufactured outbuilding at the shelter for quarantined dogs, which are animals that have been seized by animal control, often due to biting or aggression. In addition to the five dogs that died, three dogs sheltered within the building survived.

The building includes an air conditioning unit, a misting fan and three large fans, shelter Director Ryan Brown said.

Brown said a part of the reason the dogs are kept in the building is overcrowding. If there were more space in the main building to house the dogs, he said, other accommodations could be made. The dogs have been sheltered in the same building through the recent 90-degree heat without problems, he said.

"There was nothing any different than there was any of the days last week - all the conditions, all the mitigating conditions we had in place were the same," Brown said.

Brown began as director at the shelter in May. Also in May, the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners received a complaint in regard to veterinary treatment practices at the facility, which warranted veterinarian Dr. Loran Wagoner's June 12 inspection. Wagoner's report is not yet public, but Brown said it will have positive things to say about the shelter's cleanliness, though it will also say overcrowding is an issue.

When contacted Wednesday by The Sun, Wagoner said he saw the building for quarantined dogs during his inspection. He said there was ventilation in the building and thus a violation was not warranted.

Wagoner inspects shelters throughout the state and said the handling of quarantined dogs is varied. He pointed out that McCracken County's shelter is uncommon in that the location wasn't originally designed for a shelter.

"That always presents problems when you try to convert something that's not specifically made for a certain thing to something that's usable," he said.

Wagoner noted that his primary goal in his inspection was to observe the on-site clinic practices, and he said the veterinarian at the shelter is doing a "very upstanding job."

Brown said the shelter has remedied the quarantined conditions by bringing the dogs inside the main building overnight. During the day, however, the dogs will remain in the outbuilding with the doors left open and fans and air conditioning running.

"During the day we do want to keep them away from the public, because sometimes people aren't as observant as they should be, as a public safety measure," he said.

There is no overnight staff at the shelter, which employs one full-time and four-part time staffers. Volunteers and county inmates also work to maintain the facility and care for dogs. The shelter opened in 2011 when the county broke off with the McCracken County Humane Society. At a June 10 meeting, the McCracken County Fiscal Court heard from a task force formed specifically to look at the county's animal shelter needs.

Diana Cruickshank, who chaired a committee to look at the shelter's immediate needs, said the committee did not have any recommendations regarding the quarantine building three months ago.

Committee member George Pushard, who helped identify the needs, said that particular building was either not there at the time or the committee did not examine it. The task force previously voted 7-3 to recommend the McCracken County Animal Shelter rejoin with the McCracken County Humane Society.

At the June 10 fiscal court meeting, McCracken County Judge Executive Van Newberry said county leaders and the Humane Society Board of Directors would discuss terms of the potential merger. He said he expected an agreement within 90 days.

Newberry failed to returm several calls seeking his comment about the dog deaths and the status of the shelter.

Brown reiterated that the shelter did not change its practices sheltering the dogs in recent weeks.

"It is unfortunate and a hard lesson to learn, and we are taking the extra steps now so this doesn't happen again,"he said.

Dr. Wade Northington, director of the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville, which completed the necropsies, said one factor that affects dogs more than humans in relation to heatstroke is humidity. While a dog could survive in high-degree dry heat, even lower-degree high humidity can create heat stress in animals, particularly dogs, he said.

"Dogs do not sweat and the only way they have to cool their bodies is with panting," he said.

Panting then causes dogs to dehydrate, he said.

An additional common factor in heatstroke is activity level. While Northington said he cannot comment on the conditions at the McCracken County Animal Shelter because the veterinary center only completed exams on the carcasses, he pointed out that the more active dogs are, the more body heat they're generating.

He said the center sees many cases of dogs who die of heatstroke.

"It's sporadic, but it's always worse in the hot, humid weather," he said.

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