BROOKSVILLE, Florida -- "It is heartbreaking," says Hernando County Animal Control Supervisor Patrick Pace.
The shelter's workers are overwhelmed by a sudden, devastating loss. Half of the 64 adorable Shih Tzu puppies -- first abandoned in Brooksville, and then nursed back to health at the shelter -- have either died right in front of their eyes or had to be euthanized in the past 48-hours.
Photo Gallery: Dozens of neglected dogs found abandoned
The dogs contracted parvo, a highly contagious, fatal, canine disease.
"It's a swift and unforgiving disease that strikes quickly and deadly," says Pace.
Animal control officers say only one of the dogs tested positive for parvo when they were first rescued. But that was close to a month ago. And since the incubation period for the disease is between four and 10 days, it seems more likely, they say, that the virus got into the shelter from another source.
"We're not sure where it came from or how it got here, but unfortunately it happened," said Pace.
So officials are now also warning anyone who adopted any dog from the shelter in the past two weeks to be on the lookout for symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting and to speak with their vet for any course of action.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for parvo and, in their already weakened state, officials say it's likely the Shih Tzus may have been more susceptible to the virus.
All of the shelter's dogs are now being vaccinated as a precaution. It will take another two weeks, however, to see if any more of the animals show symptoms of the infection.
Shelter workers would like to think they've stopped the virus' deadly spread, "but I can't guarantee anything at this point," said Pace.
"We did everything we could possibly do to prevent this," he says, "it's just unfortunate."
The virus outbreak and vaccinations have also pushed-back the date that the surviving Shih Tzus will be available for adoption.
Applicants will now have to wait until after the first of the year, when shelter officials can be more certain about the health of the dogs that have survived.
Eric Glasser, 10 News