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Animal shelter in Muskegon temporarily closing its doors after possible distemper cases

Big Lake Humane Society first started dealing with distemper from some of the dogs that came from Cober Canines nearly six weeks ago.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — An animal shelter in Muskegon is temporarily closing because of a distemper outbreak caused by sick dogs from Cober Canines Rescue.

The closure comes more than a month after nearly 80 dogs were rescued from the Norton Shores shelter.

It's also been just one day after Big Lake Humane Society thought they could end their quarantine to send dogs to foster homes. 

"It's for the greater good right now," Executive Director Alexis Robertson says, as the Muskegon rescue made the tough choice to close to the public and their volunteers for the next ten days. 

Two of their dogs have distemper symptoms, and if those tests come back positive, it'll mean an even longer closure so they can quarantine their dogs and keep the facility clean.

"It will be devastating for us to basically spend a whole month just being closed and not being able to take in animals that need to come in, and not being able to send any out that would do better in homes," Robertson says.

The deadly disease infects the lungs, nose, eyes and brain, as well as suppresses the immune system and causes seizures.

Robertson says they first started dealing with the virus from some of the dogs that came from Cober Canines nearly six weeks ago. Since then, they've spent $10,000 to care for these sick dogs and two have since died.

"(The cost is) from their testing to treatment to critical care treatment of the distemper positive dogs. And now looking at this, that we're going to potentially have to repeat that for some of our own dogs and have to mirror that fight that we felt we were through for Cober's dogs is pretty hard for us right now," she says.

"With all of the dogs that we lost, it was a very quick thing and all of us felt like they were doing well," Ashton VanKovering, programs manager at Harbor Humane Society, says.

She adds it was difficult to watch the dogs that they took in suffer from distemper. Six dogs have since died, and VanKovering is taking care of a puppy right now who still has it.

"Now, you could not even tell," she says. "She is acting like a very normal puppy. She's playing, she gives kisses, she gets so excited to spend time with me."

Three-month-old Artemis is doing well, but her brother Apollo didn't make it. Now, VanKovering is hoping for the best for her foster and the others.

"I believe Artemis is the only one that has also tested positive for distemper. Everybody else so far is doing well. They're happy, they're healthy, as far as we can tell, they're doing really well," she says. "They're all learning to 'dog,' learning how to be part of a household again."

The best way to support these shelters right now is through donations. Harbor Humane Society, Big Lake Humane Society and Pound Buddies Animal Shelter all have to take care of the rescued dogs through Lisa Cober's trial. 

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