By Kevin M. Smith

Killeen Daily Herald

Tanicha Avila and her family had about a month to be with Jinx – their new Rottweiler-mix breed puppy they adopted from the Killeen Animal Shelter.

At first Jinx seemed healthy, but over the course of about four weeks, she became increasingly ill. Avila eventually had Jinx euthanized after the puppy was diagnosed with distemper.

"This is nothing new," said Killeen Police Capt. Steve Hoskins, who oversees the Animal Control Division.

The Killeen Animal Shelter and local veterinarians have been battling the airborne viral disease since August 2006. The outbreak started a little more than a year ago when 16 cases of distemper were reported to the Killeen Animal Control Division of the Police Department by local veterinarians, according to Killeen Daily Herald archives.

"Distemper was running rampant six months ago," Hoskins said.

Local veterinarians said after a sudden rush of distemper cases last year, the number of cases slumped before spiking again recently.

"We see them all the time," said Megan Jorcin, hospital director for Banfield Pet Hospital in PetSmart.

She said the bulk of the distemper cases have been from animals recently adopted from local shelters. A spokesperson for Second Chance Animal Shelter, operated by the CenTex Humane Society, said there is not a problem there.

Hoskins admits there have been cases at the Killeen Animal Shelter, operated by the Animal Control Division of the Killeen Police Department.

He did say it is difficult to prevent dogs with distemper from mingling with the others. The incubation period for distemper is two days to three weeks, Jorcin and Hoskins said. So when a stray dog arrives at the shelter, if it does not show any symptoms, it is assumed the dog is healthy. But if it is adopted within a couple weeks, symptoms may not show until after the dog is home with its new owners.

Hoskins said any dog that appears ill is separated from all other dogs for observation. If the dog shows distemper symptoms, veterinarians recommend euthanization of the animal.

"Once you determine that it has distemper, the recommendation from the vet is to put it down," Hoskins said.

But the animal shelter runs into legal trouble, Hoskins said. When a stray animal is picked up, the owner – if there is one – has 72 hours to claim the animal. So the animal shelter cannot euthanize the sick dog until three days have past.

"That puts us in a bind," Hoskins said.

He also said that distemper and kennel cough share some symptoms.

Early symptoms of distemper include fever, loss of appetite and eye inflammation, according to Dogs may experience eye and nose discharge, diarrhea, fever, cough or labored breathing, runny nose and vomiting.

"They will eventually go into a coma and die, particularly in puppies less than 3 months old," Dr. Michael Joyner, of the East Lake Veterinary Clinic in Killeen, told the Killeen Daily Herald last year.

That was the case with Jinx. Canine distemper can be treated by administering antibiotics, but most puppies less than 3 months old don't recover. Dogs older than 3 months can overcome the illness and are then immune.

"Some of them pull through," Jorcin said. "Most don't make it."

An annual vaccine can prevent the dog from contracting the viral disease. Jorcin said in addition to a vaccine, cleanliness can help prevent the disease from spreading.

"It's not a hard virus to kill; it just takes soap and water," Jorcin said.

"It just gives owners a big heartbreak when these pets are given to you ill," Avila said.

Avila and her family spent about three weeks taking Jinx to the veterinarian's office, only to put her down in the end. She said it's a lose-lose-lose situation.

"It doesn't seem fair – not to the animals, not to the potential owners, not to the animal shelter," Avila said.

Contact Kevin M. Smith at or call (254) 501-7550

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