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Kenton Co. Reviewing Parvo Outbreak that Resulted in Death of 21 Shelter Dogs

It was revealed Tuesday evening just how many dogs lost their lives after a breakout of the parvo virus at the Kenton County Animal Shelter.

The River City News reported earlier this month that shelter director Elizabeth Cochran did not want to say how many dogs died when she was asked by County Commissioner Jon Draud.

On Tuesday, during another meeting of the Kenton County Fiscal Court, County Administrator Joe Shriver read from a thorough report that recounted the details of the deadly outbreak. In all, 21 dogs had to be euthanized.

On July 20, Shriver said, three dogs were brought to the shelter and tested positive for the virus on July 22. The dogs were out down. On July 28 and 29, more dogs at the shelter tested positive for the virus and the decision was made to close the shelter to clean it thoroughly.

The shelter did not reopen until August 10. 

"Director Cochran is gathering experts to do a post-incident review," Shriver said. He thanked Independence veterinarian Dr. Greg Bach for his assistance in the clean-up and evaluation. Bach attended Tuesday's meeting and spoke highly of Cochran's work in the wake of the outbreak.

"I had very few suggestions on how to prevent something like this," Bach said. "I'm in the opinion, though I am not a shelter expert or a parvo expert, when you have a public shelter, it's not if you're going to have a parvo outbreak, it's when. It's just that common because it's so difficult to prevent." Bach said Cochran did "an excellent job" controlling the outbreak.

Since the devastating episode, there have been no new cases, Bach said. He said that four years ago a nearby shelter suffered a much worse outbreak of the virus. "It was excellent the way Ms. Cochran dealt with it," Bach said.

Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann called the outbreak "a tough situation" and said, "We're glad we're on the other side of this situation."

The evening was not full of praise, however. Former part-time shelter employee Matt Elrod was critical of the way the shelter handled the aftermath. 

"Last week I felt like it was a lack of transparency. There was no explanation on the door. They were closed and it was ironic because they had just put out a call for wet food and people were showing up to donate," Elrod said. He was particularly upset that Cochran said on August 12 that the number of animals put down was "irrelevant".  "It's not irrelevant. These animals matter. There are people whose animals simply got lost and ended up there and died, so it matters. We felt like you guys ran on transparency. This wasn't transparent. This was hidden. People acted like it was not a big deal and as someone who put a lot of time up there away from my family, it kind of ticks me off."

Barb Hamon, who also used to work at the shelter, said that there are procedures to prevent such outbreaks. "Most counties view (shelters) as a necessary evil," Hamon said. "It's not a place they like to place their resources because there are bigger fish to fry but when we start putting our animals to the lowest common denominator, then we as a whole group are in sad shape."
Knochelmann said that the process was transparent. "If we had any issue to keep something hidden, I would not have asked that person to speak," he said. "We could have easily said, don't report on it, and we didn't." The judge also said there is no better person for the job than Cochran.
Shriver apologized for Cochran's use of words at the previous meeting, citing the emotional effect of putting down so many dogs. "(Cochran's) comment at the last meeting was unfortunate. I saw it as passionate. She was passionate about every animal put down," Shriver said. "21 is too much, but the last outbreak in Northern Kentucky resulted in 31 dogs being put down and dozens of puppies. We tried to address this as quickly as possible. We had people internal and external working their tails off to minimize the impact of this outbreak."
Commissioner Draud clarified that during the last meeting when he asked about the number of dog deaths that he was not trying to make Cochran uncomfortable. "I had no intention of criticizing Ms. Cochran." he said. "What I wanted is what happened tonight: a more full report so the public can understand what occurred."
Other notes:

The Fiscal Court voted 4-0 to maintain the county's property tax rate despite indications in June that it would accept a 4 percent increase. The decision not to raise taxes created a discussion between members of the court over their principles and philosophy related to taxes. 

Draud antagonized his fellow commissioners by thanking the Tea Party for their onslaught of postcards, emails, and phone calls against a tax rate increase, crediting the conservative group for changing the minds of Commissioners Joe Nienaber and Beth Sewell. Draud referenced former State Representative John Isler. "His favorite expression is, he was for all expenditures and against all revenues or tax increases," Draud said. "Which kind of reminds me of this budget because we started out approving a budget with a 4 percent increase and now we find people are not willing to vote on the tax to support that budget."

Draud maintained that because of the large surplus possessed by the county, that there was no need for the proposed increase. The fiscal court held a meeting on Monday to set goals and priorities for the surplus, which has been deemed as too high, with agreements that the county dispatch center and related equipment should be improved. 

"I think we should give credit where credit is due," Draud continued. "I'm not a member of the Tea Party but I congratulate the Tea Party for sending their letters and emails. That's one thing the Tea Party deserves a lot of credit for. I don't always agree with them on a lot of issues, but typically, the American citizens are largely apathetic bu tthe Tea Party members were ready to get involved

"The 4 percent was not needed. We have a $35 million surplus. We certainly don't need a tax increase."
Both Nienaber and Sewell discounted the Tea Party influence on their decision to maintain the property tax rate during a discussion about a proposed increase in the funding source for the dispatch services. Currently, there is a $60 parcel fee for property owners, an amount that could be raised to $85 to help remedy a consistent deficit experienced by the center and to improve its aging infrastructure and radio systems. A decision on that matter was ultimately tabled.
"Timing puts a tremendous amount of pressure on folks in these positions to consider tax increases," Nienaber said. There is a long window of time, he continued, to put the budget together and then a much shorter one to establish a tax rate. With a better understanding of the county's surplus, Nienaber did not see the need to increase the tax. "It's not Tea Party related."
"It doesn't mean our principles changed," Sewell said. "I love my Tea Party friends but they did not make me change my principles by sending me postcards. I was trying to decide, do we balance a budget, which we haven't done in four years, take money out of the budget, or raise taxes?" Sewell credited County Clerk Gabrielle Summe for returning cash to the county's coffers, and boosting the budget. "A majority of that was the hard work saving money and doing what she needed to do in operating that office very conservatively."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
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