Photo by Jeff Vorva The gates are locked at the Happy Bark Park and EP officials hope to open them up again next week but it will depend on the status of the dangers posed by the canine flu.
Photo by Jeff Vorva
The gates are locked at the Happy Bark Park and EP officials hope to open them up again next week but it will depend on the status of the dangers posed by the canine flu.
By Claudia Parker
and Tim Hadac
You won’t hear any happy barks at Evergreen Park's Happy Bark Park because for now as it remains closed.
The park, which had been locked up for most of April, is one of several services or businesses that have been affected by a national outbreak of canine flu that is hitting close to home. Earlier in the week, the flu reportedly killed a dog in McHenry County so dog owners in the Chicago area are not out of the woods, yet.
Evergreen Park was one of the first to shut down its dog park, a facility that was opened July 31 at 91st Street and California Avenue.
“LaPar Animal Hospital’s veterinarian, Dr. Matt Bauer, advised us to close the dog park as a precaution,” Mayor Jim Sexton said after Monday’s board meeting. “According to our knowledge, none of our local pets have been affected by the dog flu.”
Village Clerk Cathy Aparo said an e-mail from Bauer suggested keeping the park closed for another week until the dog flu passes.
Bauer said Tuesday that if he sees minimized cases of the flu for 10-14 days, he will recommend the park be reopened.
“The surge is dwindling,” Bauer said.
In a move that officials hope will keep stray animals away from the park, the village will tighten entrance security when the park opens again.
Those who register for the park will receive a fob card, which works similar to a hotel swipe card. When waved in front of the reader, it will provide entry. Aparo said that each fob card ID number is registered to the owner and their pet. The pet license is $5 and the fob card is $20, Aparo said.
Aparo is a doting dog owner herself. She said she wants everyone to feel safe bringing their dog into the park when it reopens. “There’s a large enough space where the dogs can move around comfortably,” said Aparo. “There are sections for small, medium and large dogs but they aren’t isolated to those areas. Big dogs can move into the small dog space and vice versa.”
Aparo cautions owners not to bring their dog into the park if they aren’t social, to avoid doggy quarreling. “We encourage owners not to bring their pet’s toys in. Other dogs will see them and want to play with them too. Dogs are like kids, they’ll fight over things.”
Subhead – Bo knows safety
In Oak Lawn Bailey’s Crossing Dog Park is still open for business but last Thursday afternoon, just one customer, Bo, a Cocker Spaniel/Bichon mix, was romping around.
His owner, Oak Lawn’s Joanne Niemiec, said that if another dog came to the park, she would remove Bo from the facility because of the flu epidemic. She also discouraged her pooch from drinking out of a bowl that other dogs have used at the park.
Bauer said that he recommends the same precautions.
Meanwhile, the flu’s ripple effects are causing damage as it sweeps through the area.
“This is normally my busiest season, and I usually groom at least 40 dogs a week with a waiting list of about two weeks,” said Pam Barnett, owner of Pack Leader Academy, an all-breed dog grooming and training business in Palos Heights. “But last week? Just 13 dogs. Person after person called and cancelled appointments.”
Dog owners are cancelling or at least postponing such visits based on the advice of veterinarians.
“Due to the high risk of canine influenza virus spreading from dog to dog, pet owners should not allow their dogs to either socialize with other dogs or participate in any group dog training activities,” the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) said in a recent statement. “Pet owners are advised to not board their dogs at kennels and to avoid doggie day care, dog parks, and grooming facilities at this time.”
Symptoms include persistent, hacking cough, lethargic behavior, a poor appetite, nasal discharge, trouble breathing, or a fever. Testing for canine influenza is available, and best results are obtained from samples taken very early in the onset of the illness.
SUBHEAD – Fido looks healthy but…
Part of the dilemma, however, is that dogs that appear healthy can carry the virus and spread it to other dogs—and even cats—days and even weeks before they show flu symptoms.
“You see, it’s everywhere,” Barnett said. “It’s not just a dog park or a dog day care or a grooming establishment. A dog could become infected just walking outside to go to the bathroom.
“Everybody loves dogs, everybody pets dogs, people are getting dogs, picking up dogs on the street and bringing them home,” she added. “People can’t help themselves, but that adds to the problem.”
About three weeks ago, Barnett said she was not seeing any flu-related effects on her business “because the flu cases seemed to be clustered well north of here.”
She said most of her customers “take unbelievable good care of their dogs, better than they take care of themselves, even—and a few of them wanted a guarantee that their dog would not get sick by coming here, but how could I guarantee that? Granted, I’ve handled dogs professionally for 34 years and I run a very clean shop. I don’t accept dogs I don’t know, and I take every precaution—hey, my own dogs are here—but no one can absolutely guarantee anything in a situation like this.”
SUBHEAD – ‘Yes, I’m worried’
Other owners of dog-related businesses have expressed similar concerns.
“We haven’t had a huge amount of cancellations yet, but it’s still very early, and yes, I’m worried,” said an Orland Park groomer who wished to remain anonymous because she was concerned that adverse publicity could cause panic and make the collapse of her three-year-old business “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
While influenza in dogs is nothing new, the current outbreak is caused by a strain previously unseen in the U.S. It is common in Korea and other parts of Asia, and some believe it was accidentally imported into the U.S. in January, when a group of dogs that were being bred in South Korea as livestock for human consumption were rescued and brought to America.
Since January, literally thousands of dogs in the Midwest—especially Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio—have taken ill. There is a flu vaccine for dogs, but it offers limited protection since it is not matched to the strain newly circulating in the Midwest.
While many more cases are anticipated, the silver lining in the cloud is that the mortality rate appears low, and just a handful of dogs have died this far. “But if one of those dogs is yours, well, you get the idea,” Barnett added.
--Reporter editor Jeff Vorva contributed to this report