Hillsborough County officials insist there is no parvovirus crises in their Animal Service Dept.

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Acknowledging that two puppies have succumbed to the virus - followed by two additional cases in the past day - he insisted that the county's animal shelter is a "great, affordable choice to adopt a nice animal."

Both Merrill and Animal Services Director Ian Hallett said that the parvovirus is more prevalent in July than in any other month, and that in fact there have been 45 percent fewer cases of the virus affecting dogs this July than in 2012 - 18 this year vs. 26 last year.

The ASPC defines parvovirus as "a highly contagious viral disease that can produce a life-threatening illness. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog’s body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells, and when young animals are infected, the virus can damage the heart muscle and cause lifelong cardiac problem."

The Animal Services division at the county has been under siege in recent months, with reports of a lack of overall care for animals and faulty communications among staff members.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner seemed to be calling out some of those staff members, saying "what will not be tolerated are deliberate actions to undermine any changes to our organization, or anything that may put in jeopardy the services to our constituents and to our animals."

There will also be an organization change, with code enforcement head Dexter Barge assuming responsibilities for field operations beginning next Monday. Merrill explained that as allowing animal service management to focus more intently on shelter operations. And he emphasized that Hallett was already scheduled to be taking a vacation next week, just in case rumors would circulate why he wasn't going to be in the office next week.

Hallett's method of dealing with unwanted cats by using the trap, neuter and release system has been in particular controversial in recent months. Three long-time
veterinarians have also left the department in recent months.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill held a news conference at the County Center on Wednesday to emphatically deny that there has been an outbreak of the highly contagious Parvovirus inside the county's Animal Services department.

That's despite the fact that there have been four positive cases of dogs being infected with the virus in the past week.

Flanked by a number of high ranking officials, including County Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Sandy Murman, Merrill said it was important that he inform the media and the public to get the full story about "rumors about disease at our shelter."

"There's a fear factor out there, and that's contrary to what we want to achieve," the always measured Merrill told reporters. "There has not been an explanation of the facts."

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