CEO Blog: On Giving Tuesday – our newest effort to save more lives | Winnipeg Humane Society
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Kona was diagnosed with parvovirus and was one of the first dogs we treated for this.

Dear WHS friends and supporters,

One of most lethal, aggressive and downright awful diseases a young pup (like Kona) can contract is canine parvovirus infection, commonly referred to as “parvo”. This viral disease is more common in young puppies less than 6 months of age (but dogs can catch it at any age), and it attacks the intestines of the animal causing vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite and inability to process food, which can lead to internal bleeding and a very painful death. Because it is a virus, there is no magic cure once the illness is present, you try to stabilize the animal, provide plenty of fluids, and hope it will survive. Our goal is to raise funds to help parvo positive dogs go through 100 days in our care.

Not only that: parvo is highly contagious, and the dog can shed the virus for several months. So when you think about a high volume animal shelter such as WHS, our approach has been to humanely euthanize confirmed cases of parvovirus because treatment is long and outcomes are not assured by any stretch; and the chance of contagion is very high so we would be putting literally hundreds of dogs at risk.

This was our approach until a few months ago. A little earlier in the year in my weekly meeting with Dr. Gina Bowen, our wonderful and talented director of Veterinary Services, she wondered out loud if we could find a protocol that would allow us to treat puppies that are parvo positive and fighting the virus (so they do not exhibit the most extreme symptoms and are in incredible pain), while keeping the rest of the dogs under our care safe.

“Let’s do it”, was my non-scientific, completely irrational and heartfelt answer.

We found the perfect candidate to test this new approach. The puppy was parvo-positive but seemed to be fighting the infection and starting to gain a bit of an upper hand. Our senior veterinarian, Dr. Melanie Youngs, was put in charge of treatment and we had Claire, our talented and extremely knowledgeable Senior Manager of Animal Care in charge of figuring out how to keep this puppy in isolation with the virus contained. When I asked Claire about this, she simply said “We will figure it out”, a show of commitment and hope that reassured our team.

And so far, our team have figured some things out, at least tentatively. Therefore, I am proudly announcing that your Winnipeg Humane Society has started, on a trial basis, to treat cases of parvovirus. We may face setbacks. Not all animals will make it through. We will need specialized fosters and we will have to ensure our wonderful community choose to adopt this pups while they are on the mend, so we can move them out of the shelter and they can continue their recovery (they need special diet to rebuild their gut and their immune system).

“Balancing the safety of dogs in our care vs. the benefits of treating dogs who have parvovirus and who we know have a good chance of recovery is a fine line,” explains Dr. Bowen.  “Over the last 2 years, the WHS has made positive changes in the way we house young at-risk dogs to limit the spread of parvovirus when it does make it into the shelter. We have also changed the way that we deal with dogs who may have been exposed to the virus but are not showing symptoms.  We assess risk more scientifically and limit quarantine times so that dogs are not being held in our care unnecessarily.”

“In September, we made the leap of treating a puppy named Kona who arrived in our care with the virus. She has recovered and been adopted. The dedicated staff at the WHS have made this venture possible. They are embracing the project with some trepidation, as to wanting to keep the other dogs in our care safe, but with so much excitement and happiness in seeing a live outcome.  Watching Kona and other parvo positive dogs recover and make their way into adoptions has already made it worthwhile.”

This is a trial, and a very challenging one. To give you an idea, staff needs to wear hazmat suits, socialization of the infected puppy suffers terribly so behaviour modification may be needed after the animal recovers, and for staff and volunteers working here putting all that effort when there is a high probability of the pup not making it is difficult to deal with, emotionally and physically.

And yet, we know that you, our donors, volunteers and supporters believe as much as our team does that each and every animal deserves a chance. We know that you will help us out by adopting, fostering and volunteering with us. I am sorry for being “cap in hand”, but this is a costly endeavour, so we need your financial support to pay for this as well. We are a 100% independent charity and no government funds go to this program. It costs more than four times the amount to care for a parvo positive dog than other dogs in our care – $130/day vs. $30/day. They can be with us for weeks while they recover. So if you can donate today, or become a monthly donor, we would sincerely appreciate it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please keep the WHS team and the animals we are trying to save in your prayers/positive thoughts.

We need all the help we can get.

In service,

Javier Schwersensky