Canine influenza: Walk for Animals will be held without dogs

The Animal Humane Society's annual Walk for Animals fundraiser will not feature any dogs this year due to canine influenza

The Animal Humane Society (AHS) announced the decision on Wednesday, saying "For the first time in 52 years, Animal Humane Society will hold a Walk for Animals celebration without dogs in attendance."

"As much as we would love to see dogs at the Walk this year, our top priority is always the health and safety of animals in our community," says AHS President and CEO Janelle Dixon.

Cats, critters and other pets are still invited to attend the Walk for Animals. Past Walks have included rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, goats, ponies, chickens, ducks, snakes, ferrets, spiders, ants, a giant tortoise and a wallaby. 

"We encourage our supporters to come to the event and celebrate with their family, friends, and other pets," says Dixon. "The outpouring of support we’ve received from our supporters since our closure has been incredible. We know our community will still come together to make this a fun, memorable event — and a successful fundraiser." 

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On April 6, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced a canine influenza outbreak where around 200 dogs were sickened at animal shelters in Anoka, Hennepin, and Washington counties. The Board said on Wednesday there are now strong indicators of community spread of the highly infectious disease throughout the Twin Cities. 

Earlier this month, the AHS temporarily closing three adoption centers in the Twin Cities over a suspected outbreak of canine influenza affecting hundreds of dogs. The AHS said a dog brought in from an Oklahoma shelter on March 23 was exposed to the virus, and by April 6, approximately 200 dogs had started showing respiratory symptoms. This prompted the organization to close its adoption centers for about 3–4 weeks. 

There are two strains of canine influenza and both are highly contagious. Dogs will show symptoms within 1-5 days including nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing, and can be sick and contagious for up to 3-4 weeks. The virus rarely transfers to other animals and there is no evidence it can spread to people, according to Dr. Sara Lewis. The majority of animals should recover.

Canine influenza is rare in Minnesota, said Dr. Lewis. The AHS had not been vaccinating for the virus but said they would be doing so from now on. 

The Walk for Animals is scheduled for May 6 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The event is AHS' largest fundraiser of the year, and the organization says this year it's more important than ever, with every dollar raiser supporting AHS' vital programs that make second chances possible for animals in Minnesota and beyond.