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I-Team: Dogs Adopted From Fort Worth Animal Shelter Died Of Distemper

FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - When you bring a dog home from a shelter, you don't expect it to die within weeks of adopting it.

But that's just what some people say is happening at one local animal shelter.

Various dog rescuers tell CBS-11, shortly after they adopted their pets from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter, the dogs were diagnosed with distemper.

It's a fast-spreading viral disease that affects the nervous system, and can sometimes be deadly.

Jessica Widdicombe says when she adopted Lily in January, the lab mix had an upper respiratory infection.

She didn't realize it would soon turn into distemper. "I just completely broke down crying. I just couldn't believe that this sweet little dog that I adopted was potentially going to die any day."

Lily died February 12th. "She was just the sweetest little dog. Would just come up to me on the couch and jump into my lap. She was really, really sweet. Like I said, I was devastated when she passed away."

After Lily died, Widdicombe adopted Chloe, another lab mix from the Fort Worth shelter.

But it too had an upper respiratory infection, and died several weeks later.

Widdicombe's vet said it was distemper. "Chloe was again the sweetest little dog, very affectionate. I was hoping that we would have her around for a long time, and that didn't happen."

She isn't alone.

Carissa Harris says when she adopted Daniel from the Fort Worth shelter, the Spitz mix had kennel cough, then developed an upper respiratory infection, and ultimately distemper. "That's very upsetting to me because everyday I'm hearing of a new dog that's come from that shelter that's come down with distemper."

Two veterinarians from Tarrant County declined to talk on-camera, but said they each treated three to four dogs with distemper earlier this year -- and that all were adopted here at the shelter. One said they saw more cases in a month than in the past 11 years.

So we asked the Fort Worth Animal Shelter's contract veterinarian, Dr. Michael Morris, if the shelter has a problem with distemper.

He said, "Every shelter has a distemper problem."

But Dr. Morris says there is no outbreak at the facility.

He says every dog gets vaccinated for the disease. "The problem is with distemper and upper regulatory infections, the incubation period can be up to two weeks. They can be free of disease and come down with disease after they leave our shelter."

Morris says the shelter doesn't knowingly adopt out dogs with distemper.

But he does say rescue organizations willingly take animals with other, less serious illnesses, with the hope of rehabilitating them. "The only hope these animals have is getting out of the shelter."

But Carissa Harris, whose dog Daniel has battled distemper for weeks now, believes the facility needs to do a better job. "They don't want to take responsibility for keeping dogs that have gotten sick. They don't want to take responsibility for the dogs that have died from this."

Harris' dog died yesterday.

The shelter says it handles 20,000 animals each year, and Dr. Morris says he hasn't seen an increase in distemper cases. The city says most of those adopted out are in good health.

The city is in the process of raising $1million in private donations to open a medical treatment ward at the shelter next year.

It would house nearly 60 dogs and cats.

So far, the city has raised $300,000.

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