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A respiratory illness and corresponding bacterial infection affecting the canine community at the San Diego Humane Society is so severe that the shelter has halted the intake of dogs after three of their animals died, officials said.

The dogs are being attacked by a one-two punch of Streptococcus Equi subspecies zooepidemicus, which is also known as Strep zoo, and the bacterial infection Mycoplasma, according to SDHS, which said the pair acting in combination “have led to more severe disease than what the shelter might see with just one of these pathogens.”

Strep zoo is a bacteria that is primarily spread through direct contact and fomites,” the shelter said in a statement sent out on Monday. “To prevent the spread of the disease, all 77 dogs who have tested positive or been exposed to Strep zoo are being treated, and staff working with the dogs are required to wear personal protective equipment.”

Three dogs at the shelter died prior to the outbreak being diagnosed.

Jonathan Chapman, SDHS’s director of veterinary education, told NBC 7 on Monday that the illness typically is found within animal shelters and poses little threat to the public canine population. He explained that fomites are inanimate objects on which the disease can be transferred, such as flooring, doorknobs, clothing and shoes, for example.

The shelter has taken the rare step of pausing the surrender of the dogs — other than in situations that might threaten the health of the pet — through the end of the month. Further complicating the issue for the SDHS is the fact that it is, and has been for quite some time, at capacity. In fact, right now, SDHS is WAY OVER capacity: 178% capacity for dogs and 116% capacity for cats, authorities said.

“Any shelter that cares for the large number of animals we care for is used to managing infectious disease, but this is the first time we have had this highly virulent pathogen,” said Gary Weitzman, who is the local humane society’s president and CEO. “We believe this is a direct result of having to operate over capacity this entire year. We really need the community’s help to save lives here.”

SDHS has made the following adjustments at all its San Diego, El Cajon, Escondido and Oceanside locations, according to officials:

  • Limiting dog intake to stray animals through Dec. 1
  • Requesting that any other animals being surrendered be only done by appointment
  • Waiving reclaiming fees for anyone picking up a lost dog through Dec. 1
  • Waiving adoption fees for all puppies and dogs through Dec. 1
  • Urging people to temporarily foster a dog

The humane society has posted a page dedicated to Strep zoo, where updates on the situation will be posted.

Humane Society spokesperson Nina Thompson said there is support available for pet owners who think they might need to surrender their furry friend, like food assistance or veterinary care.

“Just call us and have that conversation,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said San Diegans can be part of the solution by adopting or fostering pets stuck in overcrowded shelters.

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What to know about ‘severe’ illness at San Diego Humane Society shelter that killed 3 dogs

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