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100 Dogs Stay At Shelter; Diagnosed With Distemper

FORT WORTH (CBS 11) - Photos of puppies are all that remain for Sherri Green.

She agreed to foster 15 dogs. But now one month later, she says all but one have died of distemper, a highly contagious virus that hits the nervous system.

Green says, "Yes, they were put down. It was horrible."

All of the dogs came from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter.

In fact, since April, the CBS-11 I-team has reported rescue groups claim dozens of dogs they pulled from the Fort Worth shelter have gotten sick and died of the disease.

At least five citizens have told us the dogs they adopted from the shelter also got sick.

The city has denied it's had a distemper outbreak at the shelter, and says it hasn't seen any more cases than in any other year.

But don't tell that to Deborah Danilow, who has rescued dogs from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter. "There seems to be an attempt to pretend that everything is ok, and it's not ok."

In May, the city asked Danilow to document the illnesses.

After gathering documents from other rescue groups and some citizens, Danilow says she confirmed 101 cases in which dogs that came from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter had been diagnosed with distemper -- most of them she says died.

When asked if everyone of the 101 forms she submitted had positive cases of distemper, Danilow said, "Yes, they have medical documentation."

She says she submitted them to the man in charge of the animal shelter, Mike Camp.

Danilow says, "He told me that he knew they've known for a long time that they have a problem with distemper. They just didn't have any documented cases."

But the city's Code Compliance Director, Brandon Bennett, who oversees the animal shelter, tells a different story.

He said he counted only 87 dogs in Danilow's files, and says the city found less than 1% actually had distemper.

Bennett says, "We provided that to subject matter experts, and their job is to go over it, and interpret it, and give us recommendations."

When asked who his experts are, Bennett said, "It's our veterinarian staff. It is epidemiology staff that we've been working with at the shelter."

Three veterinarians who've treated dogs with distemper that came from the city's animal shelter, tell me the facility's veterinarian called them to dispute their findings.

They all say they believe the city is in denial about the severity of the problem.

Bennett responded, "If I had or the vets have painted a picture or the communication between the other vets that it is our policy to dispute what the other vets are saying, that's not the case."

Danilow says besides the 101 distemper cases she's confirmed, she's aware of another 60.

But for now, she won't be documenting them.

Danilow says, "I would love to be able to continue, but I don't see that it's making any difference."

So far, Danilow hasn't heard anything from the city.

She says, "It's disappointing, it's disheartening, it's disillusioning."

This fall, the city will break ground on a new medical ward for the animal shelter to help prevent the spread of illnesses.

The money to pay for the project is being raised privately.

The shelter handles about 20,000 animals a year.

The city vaccinates all dogs in the facility against distemper.

Administrators urge the public to immunize their pets against the disease.

Advocates strongly recommend that dogs should receive a yearly distemper booster, and also recommend pet owners not place a food or water bowl outside, where wildlife that carries the distemper virus can gain access to it.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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