CHICAGO – Some Chicago dog day care businesses are temporarily closing their doors to prevent spread of a highly contagious influenza virus that has infected more than 1,000 dogs in the Chicago area. Others are only accepting dogs with up-to-date flu vaccines.
“In 14 years doing this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Angie Lopez, owner of Happy Tails and Trails, which closed for two weeks and recently reopened.
Lopez said she hired a company to power wash walls, floors and vents after seeing several dogs get sick starting March 28. She reopened this week, but is requiring a note from a vet and a flu vaccine before taking back any dogs. So far, 15 of the usual 50 or so dogs she cares for have returned.
The outbreak is caused by a virus related to Asian strains of influenza identified in 2006 and has affected dogs in China and South Korea, according to researchers at Cornell University. It can cause fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge and lethargy. And it can be transmitted to cats.
Cook County officials issued a warning this month to pet owners, advising them to avoid dog parks, group dog training facilities, dog day care businesses and other areas where dogs congregate. At least five dogs have died from complications of the flu, officials said.
The Anti-Cruelty Society canceled its most popular yearly event, iBark in the Park, scheduled for May 3. “We are deeply saddened by this decision,” the society said on its website.
Trish Kupiszewski, assistant manager at Dogs Day Inn said clients have kept their dogs away from the park and that she’s not seeing new clients for two weeks. She said she continues to care for her regular 10 to 20 dogs a day and hasn’t had any sick animals.
Brian Koester, co-owner of Bark Bark Club, plans to reopen Wednesday after being closed for about a week. Koester said his staff noticed a dog coughing last week and immediately called the owner, who picked up the dog within 20 minutes. He shut the center the next day, hoping boarded dogs didn’t get sick. So far, they haven’t shown any symptoms, he said.
“One of the real problems for people in our industry is that the dogs are asymptomatic for six to seven days,” Koester said.
Koester said he won’t require dogs to have a flu vaccine because it doesn’t protect them from the new strain of the virus. He said he gets updates on the health of their pets from owners and encourages them to take their dogs to the vet at the first signs of symptoms.
“For us, our No. 1 concern is the care of four-legged family members,” Koester said.