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Citizens Demand Action After Some Dogs Adopted From City Shelter Die Of Distemper

FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - After a CBS-11 I-Team investigation, some people in Fort Worth went to city hall Tuesday night demanding action at the city's animal shelter.

CBS 11 first reported last month that some dogs adopted or rescued from the animal shelter died after coming down with distemper, a fast-spreading neurological virus.

Since the first story aired, more people have called CBS 11 to say it happened to them too.

Tuesday night, nearly two dozen people began with a silent protest outside Fort Worth City Hall.

But these people say their pictures speak volumes.

They say most of the dogs seen here, 30 of them, died of distemper, and were either rescued or pulled from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter.

Carissa Harris says a dog she pulled from the shelter died of distemper last month.

Harris says, "We just want the city council to know we're here on behalf of the animals, to help the animals, and to improve the conditions at the shelter, so these animals don't have to keep dying for a disease that is highly preventable."

The CBS-11 I-Team has interviewed six people about a total of nine dogs.

Some are individuals who thought they adopted a healthy pet.

Others are with rescue groups trying to help dogs with illnesses that may have been euthanized, but didn't realize just how sick the dogs were.

Meet Miley. She is healthy now, but owner Kathy Cudar says when they adopted her this past January, Miley quickly became very sick.

Cudar says her vet gave her bad news. "She came in, and just looked at her, and said, she's got distemper."

Then there's Jaxx. His owner, Nicole Terrell says, "He started to get sick within days after we got him." Nicole Terrell adopted Jaxx last May.

Two weeks later, he developed distemper. Nicole Terrell says, "It was heartbreaking." Jaxx is much healthier now.

Honey is a foster dog. Lane Lankton fostered Honey knowing she had an upper respiratory infection. But now the dog has distemper.

Another dog Lankton rescued last fall had to be put down. "We got her home, and within 48 hours, she fell ill, took her to the vet, and she was diagnosed with distemper."

Finally, meet Roscoe. Mark Baumann rescued Roscoe last month, knowing he had an upper-respiratory infection.

But Roscoe's vet has just diagnosed him with distemper. It's the second time since January, that a dog he's had rescued from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter came down with distemper.

Baumann says, "It looked like a dog that was dead, but barely standing. Mucous and blood coming from the nose, eyes, pretty much shut, shaking."

After treatment, he says both dogs are healthier.

Area rescue groups we've spoken with say they aren't seeing this type of problem in any other city's shelter.

When CBS 11 first aired this story last month, the shelter's veterinarian said they don't knowingly adopt out dogs with distemper, and said every dog receives the distemper vaccine.

He denied the facility has a distemper outbreak.

But in a statement to the I-Team, the city acknowledged, "Since September 2012, we are aware of 8 dogs that have either been rescued or adopted from our shelter that have confirmed cases of distemper. During that same time period, a total of 3,334 dogs were rescued or adopted."

At a recent meeting of the shelter's advisory committee though, member and private vet Dr. Tim Morton says distemper cases may be over-diagnosed. "I personally would not know what we would do differently if in fact it was proven that an animal had distemper coming out of the shelter because our records as I understand it, indicate there has been no increase in distemper."

Still, for those who came to the city council meeting, that's not good enough.

Deborah Danilow rescues dogs, and expressed frustration with the shelter.  "This is not a third-world country.  We're a sophisticated, wealthy city with vast resources, which for some strange reason, is exhibiting a recalcitrant denial of the existence of a huge and deadly problem within our walls."

The city says its shelter handles more than 20,000 animals each year.

It is now trying to raise private money to open a medical ward next year to house up to 60 sick animals at a time.

The shelter says it could save up to 1500 dogs and cats each year by quarantining them in this ward.

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