CASE STUDY · October 21st, 2018
Overcoming an Outbreak
It was early last December when a few concerned pet parents called: Their dogs had come home with a cough. Anyone who manages a boarding facility shudders at the words “Kennel Cough” — I was no different. Still, seasonal outbreaks do occur and like all PetSuites locations, we were prepared.
As a rule, we monitor the status of all guests — tracking their health at check-in and whereabouts throughout their stay. That information helped us identify the affected animals, the areas they’d been to and the dogs they’d played with. It was, we felt, a manageable situation. And while we took it very seriously, we estimated the handful of coughing dogs would quickly recover; a resolution would be painless. How wrong we were.
Days before Christmas I received an urgent call from a local veterinarian. Rudy, a little Corgi mix who stayed and played with us for eight years, had been in the hospital suffering from more than just a cough — he was lethargic with fever, wouldn’t eat and had difficulty breathing. He battled the illness for a week until, late the night before, he passed away.
Our hearts broke. Nothing had prepared us for such devastating news.
What’s more, the lab results confirmed: Rudy tested positive for the H3N2 strain of the canine influenza virus. We knew of nearby communities struck by epidemics, but never suspected it might arrive on our doorstep. “I’m sorry,” Rudy’s veterinarian said, “but it’s here.”
Tears still in our eyes, we forged ahead. Our “manageable” situation had morphed into a crisis. We needed to protect our other guests.
On that day 36 pets were in our facility. Two days later, half showed symptoms similar to Rudy’s. They promptly received veterinary treatment. But what about last week’s guests? we wondered. Did they have more than just a cough, too? When did the exposure period begin? How many had passed through our resort since?
Our first concern was the health of the dogs, of course, but also at stake was our reputation. It was the busiest time of year — 2,224 pet days were scheduled through New Year’s Day. Any missteps in our response meant losing our clients’ trust and standing in our community.
We had to overcome this.
Combat and Containment
The virus spread rapidly and we needed to act fast. Together, along with divisional leaders and members of NVA’s Medical Advisory Board, we developed a detailed plan.
Immediately, we picked up the phones. We alerted every client whose pet stayed with us during the exposure period and urged them to seek veterinary care. If their pets were symptomatic, we advised them to return to our resort rather than board elsewhere. Here, we could care for them while preventing the virus from spreading to other facilities.
We also warned those clients still scheduled to arrive. Transparency was key. We carefully explained our situation and assured them their pet’s welfare was our priority. Furthermore, we had a plan to accommodate their dogs. It was the holidays after all, and many clients were fixing to travel. It was important to us that they had a safe alternative.
PetSuites Sharonville is essentially a 20,000 square foot barn. The open space simply did not enable us to properly separate symptomatic guests from the general population. Since keeping them under the same roof was a risk, we made arrangements with a neighboring NVA pet resort. The Pet Spot allowed us to convert their third floor into a boarding area for our incoming guests. Within 24 hours, Chad Daily and the Development Team coordinated the construction of 42 full-functioning suites with an entire HVAC system for climate control.
In addition to the Pet Spot, PetSuites locations in Dayton and Greenwood took in some of our unexposed guests. Because of the distance, clients who drove directly to these resorts were reimbursed for gas.
Indeed, the most crucial support came from local veterinary teams. While we organized transportation for guests to and from the hospitals, doctors and technicians examined them — taking swabs, performing tests and prescribing medications. Some veterinarians treated dogs inside the vehicles, so they would not track the virus back into their clinic. Dr. Stewart Smith from Beechmont Pet Hospital arrived on site to make rounds, offer guidance, and even take phone calls from frightened clients.
The second week of the outbreak, mobile clinics arrived and parked just outside our resort. Their veterinarians helped monitor all the pets in our care — checking in on them five or six times a day, noting their progress and, along with our staff, ensuring their comfort.
PetSuites has high standards when it comes to cleanliness, but during the outbreak we intensified precautionary measures. Foot baths were installed throughout the resort and disinfection stations were available on every corner.
To avoid cross-contamination, we assigned dedicated staff to care for symptomatic pets. Each wore isolation gowns, booties and gloves.
If any team member had buckled under pressure, it would have been understandable. We spent years building relationships with these clients; we worked hard to bring their pets joy. Suddenly, overnight, we bore the brunt of their fears, anger and frustration. It made us feel like we failed.
But we all held on to why we’re here. Our love for animals and the people who love them gave us strength.
Over those few fateful weeks, I witnessed the passion people have for this profession. The managers, doctors, staff and volunteers were unyielding. Their determination was truly one of the most vital components of our response effort.
For the first time in 14 years, PetSuites Sharonville closed. For three days we ceased operations to thoroughly disinfect our facilities and allow time for the virus to die off.
By the end of the outbreak, 91 guests developed symptoms (either at our resort or later when they returned home). Five required hospitalization. Lab tests revealed positive results for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza. And sadly, Rudy was not the lone casualty. Another guest — a dog who had been in our facility for one day, for a grooming — succumbed to the virus as well.
The emotional and economic impacts of the outbreak were devastating. The experience solidified our resolve to do everything in our power to prevent another outbreak.
CIV Vaccine Requirement
The fact is, our clients’ lifestyles are changing. Their pets are venturing out more – making friends at the park, taking walks with big groups, meeting new pups on the street, slurping from the same bowls outside stores, joining pet parents on hikes, vacations, airplanes, and yes, staying and playing at our resorts. Increased socialization has made pets more susceptible to contagious disease and has put our daycares, groomers, boarding facilities and hospitals at greater risk for outbreaks. That is why vaccines have become so critical.
In July, PetSuites adopted a new requirement: All guests at every location must be fully vaccinated against both strains of the canine influenza virus.
To ensure clients had ample time and opportunity to get their pet vaccinated, we launched a four-month awareness campaign leading up to the policy change. Our communication plan included mailers, email blasts, social media posts, signage and conversations with clients on the phone and in person. And once more, we partnered with local hospitals to offer discounts on vaccines and host a pop-up booster shot clinic at our resort.
If you visit us in Sharonville today, it’s business as usual. It’s a poodle being pampered in the spa. It’s a lab splashing in the tub out back. It’s cats cozy in their crates and puppies starting pre-school. It’s us — exhaling at last — as we get back to the work we love. It’s joy.
NVA’s CIV Vaccine Program
The AAHA & AVMA associations recommend that all dogs who spend time in boarding facilities, daycare, resorts, shelters, groomers or dog parks get vaccinated for CIV.
NVA has negotiated a significant price reduction on vaccines from Zoetis Pet Care and Merck Animal Health as part of our new CIV Vaccine program.
Visit Share.NVANet.com/CIV to download:
- Educational materials
- Marketing assets
- Discount details
- Customer coupons
For questions about NVA’s CIV Vaccine program, please contact Victoria Hu at Victoria.Hu@NVAnet.com.