Assisting Communities in Need

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We believe in helping people help their pets.
By Elizabeth Nelson

One of the most important vaccinations that puppies receive before being adopted is the parvo vaccine. The highly contagious canine parvovirus can affect all members of the canine family and is most dangerous for puppies though the risk is significant for dogs of all ages. Symptoms usually appear 4-6 days after exposure and may include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, weakness, and dehydration. Severity of symptoms vary. Sadly, death may result if the animal is not promptly treated, is too young, or has a compromised immune system, but this can be prevented with a vaccine.

A few months ago, an outbreak of parvo was reported in North Adams, MA. The virus was present in several neighborhoods – namely apartment complexes where puppies are often acquired through friends and neighbors, and therefore are often adopted without preventative vaccinations. The virus easily transmits through exposure to feces, contaminated objects like toys and water bowls, and through direct contact. In communities were people and animals share close quarters, playing (and defecating) in the same areas of communal lawns and sidewalks, the virus can quickly spread.

In response to the outbreak, Massachusetts Animal Fund (MAF), a department within the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, reached out to Berkshire Humane Society (BHS). Last year, BHS successfully helped curb a rabies outbreak by hosting a free vaccine clinic. MAF asked if BHS would assist once again.

Together, BHS and MAF teamed up to host a free vaccine clinic at two of the most vulnerable apartment complexes in North Adams, offering vaccinations for both rabies and parvo. With the support of North Adams Animal Control and management offices at the apartments, two dates were scheduled and education flyers were distributed. On Sunday, April 23, BHS and MAF pitched a tent and set up tables on the lawn.

By law, these vaccinations can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian, and the animal must receive a wellness exam and be cleared to receive the shots. Doctor Heather Blake, chief of staff at Greylock Animal Hospital, volunteered to work the clinic with one of her technicians. They administered vaccines, gave free exams, and answered many pet owner questions.

One young woman brought in a puppy with a genetic eye condition. Her puppy was also experiencing difficulty eating. Both Dr. Blake and BHS shelter manager, Cheryl Truskowski, provided feeding advice and encouraged her to have the puppy’s eyes examined regularly. She was also given a voucher for free spaying/neutering services – a benefit that MAF offered that day to anyone who had their pet vaccinated. The young woman was so thankful, she returned minutes later to donate some food her puppy had refused to eat.

“I don’t want it to go to waste,” she called as she hopped into the car with her pup and friend. Everyone thanked her and waved as she drove away.

“This is a great opportunity for all of us,” said John Perreault, executive director for BHS. “This is an opportunity to assist a community in need and to provide education about responsible pet ownership. People are extremely appreciative. They want to do the right thing. Sometimes they don’t have the free income when it’s time to spay or neuter their pet, or they can’t afford a vet visit for routine care because at that time, they are experiencing financial hardship. I think this service is a way to help keep animals in their homes, which means they aren’t in our or any other shelter. That’s the goal.”

More than 50 animals were seen and vaccinated over the course of two clinics. The second date was hosted on May 21st – a booster clinic where pet owners returned with their dog for the second of two parvo shots. New people arrived too, having missed the first clinic or having decided to pick up a spay/neuter voucher. For any owner who declined, staff took the opportunity to explain the numerous health benefits to animals who are fixed.

“Animals that are spayed and neutered tend to live longer. They have a lower risk for certain cancers, and they are less likely to develop unwanted behaviors due to instinctual territory marking and roaming if left outside,” said Truskowski. “Dogs are sometimes calmer, less aggressive or territorial after surgery. It’s a benefit for them as well as their owners.”

Animal DREAMS, the trap-neuter-return (TNR) non-profit caring for feral cat colonies in Berkshire County, was present at the first clinic in April to speak to residents about outdoor and stray cats at the apartment complexes. Free cat food was given to anyone who needed it, and the organization shared information about resources available for outdoor cat communities, as well as encouraged anyone with an unfixed animal to take advantage of the spay/neuter voucher.

“Free cat food is a great way to get people to talk to you,” said Stacey Carver with a smile. Carver, the director of Animal DREAMS, collected information from residents about cats living in the area so that future TNR efforts could more easily be planned when necessary. “We were there to tell people what we do and how we can help,” said Carver.

“I love offering these clinics,” said Perreault. “I love the direct contact with people, talking to them, meeting their animals. These diseases are preventable – they just need the vaccine. This is a service to everyone.”

The clinics were a great success, with many smiling people walking away from the tent hugging and kissing their dogs, happy that they would be protected from two deadly diseases for the coming year. The love witnessed between the residents and their furry companions was unmistakable, and when staff packed up that second afternoon, it was with the deep satisfaction of having met a need. Helping people help pets – that was the goal, and the goal was accomplished.

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