We've had rain this summer. And it has been manna from the heavens for our dry land. But with the rains, comes distemper.

This fatal virus flourishes in wet environments and our arid climate means we are accustomed to seeing cases of parvovirus in dogs. Parvo is the big killer here in Amarillo, and pet owners understand the severity of the illness. But with the latest news of Amarillo's ongoing distemper outbreak, I see more sharp and angry words lobbied at the City of Amarillo and the Animal Welfare Management staff rather than a real understanding of how serious the outbreak is.

"Another City dumpster fire."

"Oh great, just another reason for them to waste my tax dollars."

These are real comments I read on multiple posts regarding the temporary closure to the public and the suspension of adoptions, animal pick-ups, and in-person surrenders. I can't help but think that these people have no idea what distemper is and how savagely and quickly it can spread from dog to dog. Whatever qualms there are with the City, I can assure each and every one of you naysayers that they have done the right thing by shutting everything down until they can get this virulent outbreak contained.

Distemper is fatal. Distemper kills slowly. Distemper is something you never want to watch a dog die from.

I know. I lost my dog to distemper in Amarillo's last outbreak in 2014.

His name was Karel. And this is what it was like to watch him die.


On September 1st, I went with a roommate to the animal shelter to bail out his dog from puppy pound. We found him in stall #2. As we breathed a sigh of relief, movement in stall #3 caught my eye.

Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark

I fell in love with him at first sight.

I was so taken with him that I was in tears as we drove away from the shelter. I returned that afternoon to visit him, he would not leave my mind.

I returned the next day to see him again. I had done the math with pet deposits and monthly costs on scratch paper feverishly the night prior. But I couldn’t be impulsive; yet the pull I felt was undeniable.

He was gentle. He was sweet. His teeth said he was not even a year old. His large brown eyes told me that I was his; that he had chosen me.


September 3rd, I signed the papers. And two days later, on the 5th, I took him home.

He didn’t know what treats were. He didn’t know what walks were. He laid on the floor until i beckoned him on the couch, where he seemed slightly bewildered before slipping into comfort. Housebreaking was a snap.

He loved children. He got along with every dog he met. He was startled by very little.

He was perfect.

His name was Karel. The name translated to “I am a strong and free man.”

I thought it was appropriate.


He started sleeping a lot.

Pickier and pickier about food. But he still loved his weenie dogs.

I rushed him to the vet twice. They ran tests. Inconclusive. Best guesses and sent home with pills. They would work for a little while. Then he would sleep more, and he got harder and harder to wake up.

Then he stopped eating the weenie dogs.

To the vet. Emergency surgery. I turned him over to the vet I trust the most.

Still, I had doubts.


On Thursday the 18th, my 26th birthday, I got the news that my dog had collapsed at the vet’s office, where he had been recuperating from an emergency exploratory surgery procedure. They had no answer for his steadily-deteriorating health, but the decision was made to send him home with me to attempt to keep him alive until Monday, when the biopsy results would be in. It would be then that we could know what was causing him to waste away--and how to fight it.

“He doesn’t want to be here. The techs said that he perked up when he saw you. If there’s a chance, it’s through being with you.” The vet said to me as I sat with him on the clinic floor.

So I took Karel home. He couldn’t wait to get inside, he made a beeline for his spot on the couch.

Sarah Clark/TSM
Sarah Clark/TSM

For the next 36 hours, he improved. He drank water on his own, licked food off of my fingers without vomiting it back up, and gained strength back. Despite his weakness and how ill he must have felt, he took the effort to walk to the door and nudge his leash to signal that he needed to use the bathroom.

I thought we could make it to Monday. I really did.


Then he got worse. There was a moment where he lost the fight and the light went out in his eyes. So, on Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 3:39pm, I put my best friend to sleep. He died with his head on my foot, and I remember vividly how peaceful he looked as his giant heart ceased to beat.

It has been seven years since that day and the pain still will not fade. It is a sorrow that devours the heart.

Two days after losing Karel, there was a call from the vet. I appreciated hearing the sympathetic sadness in his voice as he told me the results of the biopsy.


There was nothing we could have done. Not a single thing. No vaccinations meant that Karel was a dead dog the moment he stepped into the animal shelter.

That evening, I turned on the news. The television told me about the outbreak of distemper in Amarillo shelters. They were delayed in containing the spread because vets in the area had not seen a case of distemper in decades--they did not know what they were seeing.

This time, the vets and the shelter know what they're dealing with. They're saving someone else the pain and sorrow that I endured in 2014.

Vaccinate your pets.

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