The History of No Kill in Austin – Part 4: Parvo by Dr. Ellen Jefferson

by Lisa Maxwell • Posted in: Awareness/ PR

KaijaIn 2008, when I signed on with Austin Pets Alive! as Executive Director, I had a distinct advantage in saving lives because I’m a veterinarian. Back then, any puppy at the city shelter (and this problem was not singular to just our city) suspected to have parvo virus, and any litter-mates of that dog or even any dogs in the general vicinity of the puppy would be killed.

In just about every shelter in the country, parvo is a death sentence, because of the intensive treatment required to save the puppy and the contagiousness of the disease. The city shelter simply wasn’t equipped to treat the puppies or prevent the spread of infection. I stumbled into this area of No Kill when I went to pick up some foster puppies at the city shelter, I was told that they were sick and that I didn’t have to take them. They were kind enough to test them for me and sure enough they were positive for parvo. I couldn’t leave them there – especially since I did know how to treat parvo. What I didn’t know was that I was about to start a new program for APA!…

And so the line of puppies in need began to form. I started treating puppies with parvo in my own home, giving them fluids and medications every few hours to keep them from becoming dehydrated or septic – conditions that would kill them with no treatment. Parvo attacks the puppy’s intestinal tract causing intractable diarrhea and vomiting. And that’s why having my husband on board was important, because parvo smells awful. Luckily he loves puppies too.

Wonderfully, the puppies got better pretty darn fast. And the thing is, once these puppies beat parvo, they are perfectly normal and extremely adoptable. They just need a little extra time and attention. So, when we moved to our first facility on Manchaca St. in Austin, we created the first-ever parvo treatment ICU in the country. The room had separate entrance and exits, was closed to the public and we established very rigid protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. And boy was my husband happy.

Parvo can live in the ground for more than a year. The tiniest trace of the virus is all it takes for a puppy to become infected. Treatment of parvo at a private practice vet is beyond what many people and shelters can afford. For all these reasons, most shelter and rescue people don’t even try to treat for the disease. I started it but our volunteers and staff took it and ran with it and turned it into an amazing program. We now save close to 90 percent of the puppies who become ill with it and have discovered more about the disease than has been published. We are in the process of publishing our data so that we can affect the lives of parvo puppies everywhere by giving their caretakers hope and low cost instructions.

Using a team of highly trained volunteers under the supervision of APA!’s veterinary staff, APA! has treated almost 400 parvo puppies in 2016 so far, and more than 2,000 since the program’s beginning.

I am so proud of this program: To see these tiny puppies that felt so bad bounce back and become perfectly healthy and happy pets; To see the first little wag of the tail once the virus has started to clear, and to see their appetite return; To see them pick up a toy and take happy steps to their forever home is what No Kill is. A little extra effort is all it takes.

This Sunday is our annual Paddle for Puppies, hosted by Austin Subaru which specifically benefits our parvo ward. Consider coming out and enjoying some time on the water knowing that you are helping cute little puppies fight a tough fight.