Watch a dog’s first day out after surviving distemper

Pep the black dog, standing outside, wearing a harness, with her mouth open and big pink tongue out
Pep was sick for months but then got to celebrate her health in the sweetest way at the Sanctuary.
By Sarah Thornton

Dog park day is always a big deal. For the dogs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, it means running full tilt through the trees and getting lost in the bushes. It means catching up on the “news” left behind by other cavorting canines and making their own mark in turn. It means splashing in the pool, playing until they’re pooped, and generally just enjoying a really, really good day. Just about every dog gets the wiggles when they realize where they’re heading.

But for Pep, going to the dog park was a major milestone. Heck, even the walk to the dog park was exciting — and not just because it was her first visit to the pooch paradise. Pep was sick with distemper when she first came to Best Friends, and she had to stay in quarantine for months until there was no longer a risk of her spreading it to other dogs.

[Dog Park Etiquette Rules: FAQs]

This was her first time to explore the most fun parts of Dogtown since arriving at the Sanctuary. Best Friends’ goal is for all shelters to reach no-kill by 2025, and that means working together with other animal welfare organizations to save pets’ lives, giving each one the time and care they need to move out of the shelter and into a happy new life. And Pep had needed plenty of both.

So, yeah, dog park day was definitely a big deal.

Surviving distemper

Pep came to the Sanctuary from a shelter in New Mexico, six young puppies in tow and the whole family very, very sick. They’d tested positive for distemper: a serious, contagious virus that affects the respiratory system and suppresses the immune system. Fevers, lethargy, trouble breathing, and coughing — they had it all. It was rough enough on Pep but even more difficult on the pups.

The Sanctuary veterinary team set right to work treating the family, getting them medications and monitoring them closely, but unfortunately Pep’s puppies were already too far gone. They didn’t make it. Pep, herself, had to be strictly quarantined. She couldn’t even go outside beyond the patio of her run because the virus can survive a long time in the ground. Just going on a quick walk around the parking lot would have meant risking exposure to countless other dogs.

[Puppy beats distemper with the help of two determined foster moms]

So Pep stayed in her roomy indoor space, but she was never short of things to do. Caregivers and volunteers spent lots of time with Pep, playing games that only needed a little bit of space or sitting with her and offering all the snuggles and belly rubs she could want. Though shy at first with new people, Pep warmed up quickly even when she wasn’t feeling her best. She loved the attention, squirming her way as close as she could to her new friends for proper cuddle contact.

For months, Pep was in quarantine. Sometimes, things got scary. At one point, her fever got so bad, it caused her to have seizures. But there was always someone nearby to treat and comfort her. When her skin became itchy and flaky, and she needed a good scrub but couldn’t get to a tub, caregivers bathed her right there in her room. Anything and everything she needed to save her life and keep her comfortable, she got.

Pep steps out

And then, finally, the time came. Not only was Pep healthy again, but it was also no longer risky for her to be around other dogs. The quarantine sign on her door came down. Then, the leash came out. She was going outside for the first time since she’d arrived in the canyon.

There was so much to smell, so much to see, so much to do! Pep hardly knew where to start, but she was excited. She rolled in the dirt with glee when she ran into a familiar face: a vet tech who’d helped her through the tough times. She ran and romped and tumbled and twisted her way through the foliage of the dog park. She met another dog and made her very first furry friend at the Sanctuary. It was a big day, and Pep took full advantage of it. The sun felt so, so good on her fur.

But the good times didn’t end there, and that wasn’t even the most exciting thing that would happen for little Pep now that she was healthy and free. Just a few days after those first big steps back out into the wide-open world, Pep would take another huge leap — right into a home of her very own. Pep got adopted. Now, she’s safe and snug at home, enjoying every day to the fullest and never looking back.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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