SMITHFIELD — Thanks to a grant, dogs that live at the Johnston County animal shelter will soon be getting their flu shots.
Johnston County Animal Services has landed a $20,000 grant from the Petfinder.com Foundation. The money will purchase about 2,200 doses of the vaccine.
"We will use this as a tool to enhance our adoption process and immunize as many animals that go back into the community as we can," said Animal Services director Ernie Wilkinson. "Any animal that's in here over 72 hours we will vaccinate."
The shots will not be available to the public, so pets with a home will need to see their vets for the shot. "We will not be able to do anything to an animal that's not ours," Wilkinson said.
The shelter's vaccine doses will not be enough to slow the flu's spread throughout the pet population in Johnston County, but Wilkinson hopes to make more people aware of the little-known ailment. "I see this more as an awareness tool more than a preventiveness tool," he said.
The Petfinder.com Foundation created the grant because shelter dogs are more at risk for canine influenza. "Canine flu can be a real problem for shelters, where one sick dog can cause an outbreak through an entire facility," said Liz Neuschatz, foundation director.
And Wilkinson said having the vaccine makes a dog more attractive to animal rescue groups, which take in pets that might otherwise be euthanized. "The rescue groups are much more keen to take them than one that's not been protected," he said.
Wilkinson hopes the grant will continue once the $20,000 runs out. The vaccine's makers - who are helping fund the grant - are looking to the Johnston shelter to gauge the drug's effects.
Wilkinson said the county, which funds Animal Services, cannot afford to pick up where the grant leaves off. "Unless it's funded by an outside source, it would not be feasible" to continue the program, he said.
One dog can get the flu from another that is sick. The virus can also spread through shared toys and drinking bowls. People can spread the virus if they come in contact with infected dogs, though humans won't get sick. As with human strains of the flu, symptoms include coughing, and the virus can lead to pneumonia and even death.
Aside from coughing, few of the symptoms are visible. "This particular strand of influenza is very difficult to diagnose," Wilkinson said. "Dog flu is something fairly new, and quite frankly, I didn't know a whole lot about it."