An outbreak of giardia, a highly contagious protozoan parasite, has caused the Payson Humane Society to close its doors for two weeks effective immediately.
The PHS board made the decision Friday afternoon after consulting with Dr. Danielle Hettler, a veterinarian at Star Valley Veterinary Clinic.
"We've got about seven dogs with it," PHS President Barbara Brenke said. "We've already had to put one dog down because he just kept getting re-infected."
The shelter's cat population has also been affected.
"We sent a bunch of kittens in to be fixed -- 10, 11 of them -- and out of that, nine had giardia," Janet Ostrom, PHS administrative supervisor, said. "That's when Dr. Hettler got concerned.
"We're not even sure how they got it, but it's out there in the public. These were all stray kittens that came in."
Hettler agreed with the shelter's decision.
"I do think that's a good idea for them to go ahead and close down for awhile," she said. "We had been testing quite a few of these animals for a few weeks and they had been testing positive, and we had been treating the animals on a case-by-case basis."
By closing the shelter down, new dogs will not be introduced, and all animals -- both dogs and cats -- can be treated simultaneously.
"I went out for an evaluation on Thursday and I figure what is happening is that they could be getting re-infected," Hettler said. "So we're planning to treat all of the cats and all of the dogs all at one time."
Not only can Giardia be transmitted between cats and dogs, but humans can also catch it from animals. The risk, however, is minimal, Hettler emphasized.
"The thing for readers to understand is that most people are not affected unless they're immuno-compromised," she said. "If they've got diabetes or some auto-immune disease, or they're elderly or younger -- those would be the most affected.
"We've been dealing with a lot of giardia here and so has the humane society and nobody has gotten sick from any of those animals."
The problem first surfaced last summer, according to Ostrom.
"We started seeing it in the summertime -- a dog here, a dog there -- stray dogs," she said.
"Then our own dogs started coming in with it, and it just gradually got worse. It's out there in the public."
Hettler noted that it is almost impossible to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.
"We don't know whether somebody brought in an animal that had giardia, or whether it was one of a couple water supplies they were letting the dogs drink out of (when volunteers take them out for walks)," she said.
Brenke emphasized that the shelter's "cleaning protocol" is exemplary.
"The vet went through everything with us and was pleased, by and large, with the cleaning efforts we're employing," she said. "But as she stated, that old shelter just kind of defies you to keep things like this from spreading because of the porous nature of the construction."
"I think they're doing a real nice job of keeping everything clean, but the problem is they're little tiny organisms, and they're spread pretty readily," she said.
Hettler is optimistic that the outbreak can be contained. She doubts that they are dealing with some kind of superstrain.
"I don't think so," she said. "It doesn't tend to mutate like viruses do."
The shelter currently houses about 45 cats and 30 dogs.
"The sad thing about it is that we're not going to be taking animals in except the ones we have to take from the town and county," Brenke said.
The shelter plans to reopen Jan. 14. In the meantime, donations are welcome to help defray the considerable cost of treating all the animals.
Call (928) 474-5590 for more information.