Dozens of dogs dead
Sixty-eight die of disease outbreak in Repulse Bay

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

REPULSE BAY (Feb 11/98) - Sixty-eight dogs are dead in Repulse Bay following a disease outbreak that wildlife officials are still trying to control in the community.

The dogs contracted distemper, a disease that leaves dogs weak, unable to eat and can kill them as quickly as three to six days after they've come in contact with the virus. The disease attacks the animal's respiratory and nervous system and kills more than 80 per cent of the dogs that contract the distemper virus.

Tim Devine, Keewatin manager of wildlife and fisheries for the GNWT, said that the disease usually spreads quickly, particularly among younger dogs, but poses no danger to people.

"There is no aggression," he said. "There is no danger to people, but dog owners should handle their dogs with care with protective gloves on."

The disease can, however, infect other species.

"It can get into foxes and wolves," he said. "But we haven't seen any evidence of that yet."

Devine said distemper is common in Northern communities and appears almost every year. "There have certainly been other communities, but I'm not aware of any right now," he said.

Devine said that it's up to the owner to decide whether to shoot the dog or not.

But if the dog is killed, he added, the carcass should be burned to ensure that other animals don't come in contact with the virus.

Wildlife officers are in Repulse Bay are now administering vaccinations in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

But Tom Pisz, a veterinarian in Yellowknife, said that once the outbreak has started, it's difficult to stop, adding that vaccinations should be done prior to an outbreak.

"They should be done three times in the first year (for puppies), and annually after that for dogs," he said. "It won't do any good if the dog has already contracted the disease -- it will actually speed it up."

Pisz agreed with Devine that the outbreaks are common in the North, but stressed that this reinforces the importance of preventative vaccinations.

"This is not very good news -- you're going to have a big drop in dog population (in Repulse Bay)," he said. "There is no treatment for it."