Southern California animal shelter battling deadly outbreak; fosters desperately needed

Riverside County’s largest animal shelter is currently in the middle of an outbreak of a bacterial infection that can be deadly for dogs.

The Department of Animal Services says at least 13 dogs at the Jurupa Valley shelter have tested positive for Streptococcus zooepidemicus, aka strep zoo, a bacterial respiratory infection.

Since the beginning of the year, four dogs have died in their kennels, and a fifth died at the home of an adopter. Lab tests confirmed that the dogs were positive for strep zoo, with additional cases pending lab results.

These are the first instances of strep zoo in that facility’s history, officials said.

Erin Gettis, Riverside County Animal Services director, said other animal shelters in the area are dealing with their own bouts of strep zoo and she is asking for the public’s help to find emergency foster homes to get healthy dogs out of shelters while the cases are treated.

“We are seeking emergency foster placements for at least 100 healthy, adoptable dogs,” Gettis said. “This will not only protect these dogs from getting sick but will allow the shelter to medically isolate dogs that may have been exposed to a sick dog.”

Foster candidates should not have any other dogs at home to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

Officials said Strep zoo is often found in horses and other livestock, but it can spread to dogs and cause life-threatening pneumonia. Dogs can become infected easily by being exposed to sick dogs, or through airborne droplets and contaminated surfaces.

Other dogs who were suspected of having strep zoo at the Jurupa valley shelter had to be euthanized, officials said.

“Some of our rescue partner organizations and advocates are likely noticing a higher euthanasia number in recent weeks, compared with normal operations,” Gettis said. “This is because we are at shelter capacity and dogs are getting very sick. Some dogs have unfortunately caught strep zoo, and others are being impacted by less severe illnesses. This is why we’ve made this urgent plea for help.”

Gettis added that, although hundreds of dogs were saved and rehomed in recent weeks, more dogs were needed to be euthanized in recent weeks. She hopes that by getting healthy dogs into foster homes, those euthanizations will decline and the outbreak can be snuffed out.

Officials also encourage anyone who comes across a stray dog in Riverside County to hold onto the dog as long as possible and make all efforts to reunite it with its owner, in hopes of keeping more animals out of the shelters.

At this time, strep zoo has only been located within the Jurupa Valley shelter and dog owners should not be too concerned about their own pets. Anyone who recently adopted an animal from the Jurupa Valley shelter is urged to monitor their pet for signs of respiratory illness.

Riverside County Animal Services Chief Veterinarian Dr. Sara Strongin urged pet owners to stay current with their animal’s required vaccinations.

To view a video of healthy, adoptable dogs at the Jurupa Valley shelter, click here.

“Our immediate goal is to get assistance from the public to reduce the shelter population and to prevent any additional deaths,” Gettis said.