Two more dogs have tragically died from a distemper outbreak suspected to be linked to Cober's Canines, a facility previously involved in an animal cruelty case. Alexis Robertson, the Executive Director of Big Lake Humane Society in Muskegon, confirmed that the two dogs exhibited signs of distemper infection last week before passing away. Robertson believes the dogs contracted the virus from others brought to the facility after being seized from Cober's Canines in January.
Big Lake Humane Society, formerly known as Muskegon Humane Society, was among four shelters that took in dogs from Lisa Cober's home in Norton Shores. A total of 78 dogs were confiscated on January 30, many of which were suffering from severe health issues. Jen Self-Aulgur, the Executive Director at Harbor Humane Society, another shelter that housed affected dogs, said that several dogs were thought to have distemper, pneumonia, and kennel cough. In the following weeks, nine dogs seized from Cober died from distemper — six at Harbor Humane and three at Big Lake.
However, the recent two casualties were not dogs confiscated from Cober. Instead, they were surrendered after the arrival of the Cober dogs. These dogs had not been vaccinated for distemper and received their first doses soon after, but it seems the infection took hold before the vaccine could offer protection. Describing the past week as "heartbreaking," Robertson said, "It's difficult to wrap my head around how quickly it takes a healthy animal down to nothing."
Distemper is a disease that attacks dogs' and puppies' respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Common symptoms include lethargy and a lack of appetite, but distemper is typically diagnosed following nervous issues, such as loss of balance and twitches. Vaccines for the disease are readily available, and American Humane considers it one of the "core vaccines" for dogs.
Since the two dogs first exhibited symptoms, Big Lake has closed its doors to visitors and volunteers. The shelter will remain closed until the end of March to minimize the risk of spreading the infection. Additionally, the shelter is making changes to its kennel floors and adjusting its safety protocol.
To assist Big Lake, the Little Traverse Bay Humane Society is taking in the shelter's cats, which cannot contract the same strain of distemper. This move will provide Big Lake with the space needed to make renovations without removing dogs from the facility. Robertson said, "We're doing our best to learn from this and keep moving forward even though we are all heartbroken."
In January, police received a tip from Pound Buddies Animal Shelter about "many animals" living at Cober's residence in Norton Shores. Before police intervention, eight puppies died, and two more were euthanized. Cober is facing one felony charge of cruelty to 25 or more animals, which carries a potential sentence of up to seven years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. Cober waived her preliminary hearing, sending her case to trial in Muskegon County Circuit Court. The trial date has not been set.
Although Cober is facing charges, she still retains legal ownership of the animals, meaning shelters cannot adopt them out. The costs of caring for the animals are increasing for the shelters involved. Both Harbor Humane and Big Lake have reported spending over $10,000 on the care of dogs seized from Cober. Harbor Humane and Big Lake accept donations at harborhumane.org/donate and biglakehumane.org/donate, respectively.
Animal cruelty is a pervasive issue worldwide. It involves the infliction of harm or suffering on animals