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Dog Flu Outbreak Leaves Chicago Pet Day Cares, Dog Parks Empty

By  Alisa Hauser Ariel Cheung and Kyla Gardner | April 9, 2015 6:21am 

 Margaret Grzych and her dog Yoshikawa had the park to themselves on Tuesday.
Margaret Grzych and her dog Yoshikawa had the park to themselves on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

CHICAGO — Pet owners who rely on day cares that have temporarily closed because of a fast-spreading canine flu are making other arrangements while dog parks are less crowded than usual.

Yoshikawa, a Siberian Husky, was the only dog romping around Wicker Park's dog park at 1425 N. Damen Ave., around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Usually there are at least five or six other dogs there at that time, owner Margaret Grzych said.

"I'm sad not to see more dogs. This is the time for them to run around and burn energy," said Grzych, a Ukrainian Village resident who regularly brings her 3-year-old pooch to the park.

Alisa Hauser discusses the dog flu outbreak:

Eric Petzold, a dog walker, eventually brought Fernie, a Boykin spaniel, into the fenced-in park to join Yoshikawa.

"I'm aware of the flu and can see why the day cares are shutting down, but I think it's blown out of proportion," Petzold said of the respiratory illness that has impacted 1,000 Cook County dogs and has been linked to five deaths, according to officials.

Wicker Pet, a dog day care, grooming and boarding facility at 2029 W. North Ave. has been closed since Tuesday, with a plan to reopen on Monday after a deep cleaning.

Matt Norris, who was by himself cleaning the usually packed facility, was joined by just one dog, Oliver, whose owner was out of town when the closure happened.

Normally there would be 35 other dogs hanging out with Oliver, said Norris, who had spent the entire day cleaning as a "preventive measure."

Experts say the disease can spread through dog-to-dog contact, through contaminated objects, and through the air.

Dogs are especially at risk at dog parks, dog beaches, day cares, grooming facilities, pet stores and boarding facilities, according to the Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, 3123 N. Clybourn Ave.

The center recommends owners vaccinate their dogs against bordetella, also known as kennel cough, and canine influenza to curb the spread of the outbreak.

“We don’t typically see such a large number of cases, and some of these cases are so severe that they require hospitalization,” said veterinarian Jerry Klein of the outbreak.

Larry Hammond, owner of Playful Pets, 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. in Lakeview, said he’s been telling clients that, if it’s absolutely necessary, they can bring dogs in, though the business is "kind of semi-closed."

Usually Playful Pets has 40 dogs in day care. On Tuesday, it had just 11, the lower number resulting in a loss of several thousands of dollars and the temporary layoff of one worker, Hammond said.

"We haven’t had a case [of the flu] yet, but once we get a case, like everywhere else, we’ll have to close to air the place out," Hammond said.

He added, "There’s no winners in this."

Hammond said that "the scary part" of the outbreak was that "as unprepared as we were, imagine if this was a human problem."

Klein said the first sign that a dog had a respiratory problem was a dry cough, or a “honking” sound, that wouldn’t clear up.

Klein advised owners to take their dog to the vet immediately if the canine also suffers lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, vomiting, or rapid breathing.

Jacob Cohen, a doctor at Wicker Park Veterinary, 1166 N. Milwaukee Ave., said he was seeing "a ton of cases" of canine Influenza, or about five to 10 each day.

Until this year, the flu had not been seen in Chicago since 2008.

"It's a new disease relatively speaking and a relatively new vaccine discovered in 2004," said Cohen, who believes the flu is "probably, hopefully peaking."

"We have had some very, very sick dogs; thankfully none have died under our care,' Cohen said.

When asked if any types of dogs were more prone to contracting the flu, Cohen said there appeared to be "very little immunity in the [dog] community and it's very contagious, so all dogs are susceptible."

The canine influenza vaccine consists of two shots — spaced three weeks apart — and usually costs between $75 to $100, Cohen said.

Hammond said he's now made it mandatory for dogs to have the vaccine before boarding at Playful Pet.

"Even though it’s not foolproof, it’s the only option out there. If anything good comes out of this, maybe it’ll be a vaccine worth having," Hammond said.

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