NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Two more dogs have died from a distemper outbreak believed to be connected to Cober’s Canines.
Alexis Robertson, the executive director of Big Lake Humane Society, confirmed to News 8 that two dogs that started showing signs of distemper infection last week have since died. Robertson believes they contracted the virus from infected dogs that were brought in after being seized from Lisa Cober’s dog rescue in late January.
“It had to have been them,” Robertson told News 8 last week. “We have never, ever had distemper here before.”
Big Lake, formerly Muskegon Humane Society, was one of four shelters to take in dogs from Cober’s home in Norton Shores. In all, 78 dogs were confiscated on Jan. 30, many with serious health problems. Jen Self-Aulgur, the executive director of the Harbor Humane Society, said several dogs were believed to have cases of distemper, pneumonia and kennel cough.
Nine dogs seized from Cober died from distemper in the following weeks — six at Harbor Humane and three at Big Lake.
Robertson says the two latest deaths were not dogs confiscated from Cober, but were surrendered after Cober dogs were brought in. The new dogs were not vaccinated for distemper and were promptly given their first doses. However, it appears the infection took hold before the vaccine could provide protection.
Robertson has called the last week “heartbreaking.”
“It’s difficult to wrap my head around how quickly it takes a healthy animal down to nothing,” she said.
Distemper is a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system in dogs and puppies. The most common symptoms are lethargy and a lack of appetite, but distemper is usually diagnosed after nervous issues, including loss of balance and twitches. Vaccines are widely available and American Humane considers it one of the “core vaccines” for dogs.
Big Lake has been closed to visitors and volunteers since the two dogs first started showing symptoms. For now, the shelter will remain closed through the end of March to prevent any possible spread. The shelter is also making some changes to its kennel floors and tweaking its safety protocol.
The Little Traverse Bay Humane Society is helping Big Lake by taking in the shelter’s cats, which cannot catch the same strain of distemper, giving Big Lake the room to make their renovations without bringing dogs out of the facility.
“We’re doing our best to learn from this and keep moving forward even though we are all heartbroken,” Robertson said.
Cober faces one felony charge of cruelty to 25 or more animals, which carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. She waived her preliminary hearing, sending her case to trial in the Muskegon County Circuit Court. No date has been set yet.
Despite the charges, Cober still has legal ownership of the animals, meaning the shelters cannot adopt them out. The costs for the animal shelters tasked with caring for them are mounting. Harbor Humane and Big Lake say they both have spent more than $10,000 caring for dogs seized from Cober.