No dogs accepted: Positive distemper case closes public dog intake at BARC Houston

Dog in a shelter, stock photo (,

HOUSTONBARC, the City of Houston’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, said Monday that it will temporarily suspend public dog intake appointments for the next few weeks and is activating quarantine protocols in response to a shelter animal that has tested positive for distemper.

Distemper is an ever-present concern in communities with large populations of stray animals and affects certain mammals, excluding humans and cats. Distemper symptoms may include thick nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing and, in severe cases, may affect the neurological system, causing seizures, tremors, and death.

While public intake is temporarily suspended, BARC said it remains open for all other services. Throughout this period, BARC said it will continue to accept sick, injured, or fading animals, and animal enforcement officers will continue to respond to calls for service at this time.

Cat intake appointments will also continue to be available. BARC will reschedule existing intake appointments once all animals under observation receive negative test results for distemper.

“I commend the fast actions of our team at BARC in identifying the symptomatic dog and swiftly implementing their infectious disease protocols. While intake appointments are closed, all other services remain available, so I continue to encourage existing and new collaborations with our partners and the public,” Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted in the BARC news release. “Our staff will closely monitor the animals under our care and any that come into the shelter at this time. We urge Houstonians to please have their pets vaccinated to prevent the possible spread of illness among other pets in the community.”

Medical staff identified the case on Thursday after a dog showed signs of distemper. BARC said a veterinarian directed that the dog be immediately euthanized to prevent spread to other shelter animals. The veterinarian’s assessment was confirmed days later as the shelter received a positive distemper test result for the animal.

BARC said it immediately implemented its distemper protocol last week by isolating any dogs that were at high risk for exposure and notifying all rescue, foster, and volunteer partners. BARC has isolated the dogs that have been exposed and is waiting on test results to determine if additional precautions need to be taken. BARC said areas impacted by these protocols are inaccessible to the public and are not in proximity to public adoption areas.

The organization said the following safety protocols are in place:

  • Carefully monitor healthy but exposed animals for future symptoms
  • Ensure that no animals are placed into the community until they are without symptoms or past the incubation period
  • Conduct a deep cleaning of shelter to reduce further contamination

BARC will remain open for the following services:

  • Animal control and bite case investigations
  • Intake of cats, as well as sick, injured, or fading animals
  • Drive-through clinic assistance for foster animals
  • Heartworm treatment appointments for all pets
  • Regular cat adoptions
  • Adoption of dogs categorized as low risk
  • Return to owner services, following proper sanitation protocols in place

BARC released this statement:

“BARC is committed to the highest standards of veterinary practices and has established an infectious disease protocol in conjunction with Dr. Cynda Crawford, Chair of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. ... Individuals who have adopted dogs from BARC that show potential symptoms are encouraged to contact the shelter for free medical treatment. BARC will also refund adoptions fees and accept returned animals from those who are unable or unwilling to care for potentially sick animals. BARC urges pet owners to stay up-to-date on all pet vaccinations, which is the best way to prevent canine distemper. The canine distemper vaccine is included in a combination vaccine (sometimes abbreviated DAPP, DA2PP, or similarly) that also protects dogs against some other common canine viruses. Visit BARC’s low-cost wellness center to learn more:”

BARC remains open for adoptions from noon - 5 p.m. every Tuesday - Sunday at 3300 Carr St.

About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.