Here at the Humane Society the health and safety of the animals in our care, our customers, and the public are our top priorities. Therefore, it has been extremely disheartening to all of us here to know that illness was associated with a fun event we held in our shelter.
When several Humane Society staff members became ill we assumed that we had all caught the same virus. It wasn’t until more than 2 weeks after our March 31st Petting Zoo, long after all of us had recovered, that we found out that our illness was likely caused by cryptosporidium and that others who attended the Petting Zoo had also been ill. We follow a very thorough cleaning protocol at the shelter using strong bleach solutions and cleaners specifically made to work against animal diseases but unfortunately, as we discovered, cryptosporidium is very resistant to bleach and many other chemicals. (You can read our initial posts about crypto here.) We encouraged hand-washing at the petting zoo, but crypto can live on surfaces for a few hours so it’s possible that it was spread around even to non-animal areas such as a counter or a door-handle between the time an animal was handled to the time hands were washed.
Several of our animals also tested positive for cryptosporidium after the event. Of those animals, few showed any symptoms and all appear healthy now, however it is still possible for them to shed the parasite in their stools for up to 5 weeks. To prevent any further spread of cryptosporidium we have closed our animal rooms off to the public and our staff is using strict isolation methods to prevent it from spreading to the other areas of the shelter. In a kennel environment with so many animals housed close together, it is easy for illnesses to spread around but we are vigilant to keep all of our kennel areas separated and use separate cleaning tools for each room which are sanitized and separate litter scoops for each cat which are sanitized. We are continually reviewing our methods to find areas for improvement and we have made GREAT strides in this area over the past year but no method will be completely fool-proof.
Cryptosporidium is scary sounding, and certainly in individuals with compromised immune systems it can cause very serious illness. It’s important to note, however, that for most people and animals it is not life-threatening. Cryptosporidium is not uncommon in this area, especially in farm animals, and the best way to prevent its spread is to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. With that you are not killing the organism, but rather washing it off your hands. Hand sanitizer does not work that way and it does NOT kill cryptosporidium or several other organisms that can make people sick.
We will be retesting all of our animals and hope to resume adoptions later in May. We have sanitized all areas of the shelter with peroxide-based cleaners that are the most effective against cryptosporidium so pets and people in our retail, grooming and boarding areas are at no greater risk here than they would be in any other public space. We are hopeful that our community knows that we take the health and safety of our human and animal guests very seriously. We have learned from this experience and are ready to move forward.
We will continue to improve how we do things at the Humane Society and we hope you – our community – will continue to support us along the way.