TRENTON, N.J. (WPVI) -- A silent killer has been taking the lives of dogs in central New Jersey.
Over the past several months, vets in Trenton have watched helplessly as dozens of people were forced to say goodbye to their furry friends.
The culprit is the highly-contagious parvovirus.
"We do consider it a large outbreak. It does happen in more urban areas," said Valerie Wilson of People for Animals.
Wilson is organizing a free parvovirus vaccination clinic for pet owners in the western section of Trenton after dozens of dogs from that area have died in the last month from the illness.
"It does get them very sick, it's most often fatal to dogs. It affects their intestinal tracts," she said.
Throughout the summer, officials at Trenton Animal Shelter have been getting calls from pet owners describing parvovirus symptoms: vomiting, fever, lack of appetite, dehydration and diarrhea - the reason it's so highly contagious.
"It's not easy to clean up, it's not easy to pick up and so you're stepping in it, animals are stepping in it and that is exactly the way it's transmitted," said Trenton Health Officer Jim Brownlee.
Parvovirus can be transmitted by anything that comes into contact with the contaminated feces. Even an innocent walk through grass can transfer it to a healthy dog's paws or hair.
"The virus spreads very easily in puppies but all dogs are affected," said Brownlee.
Officials say dog owners with sick animals have been calling the shelter as a last resort because it costs thousands of dollars to treat parvovirus at an animal hospital.
"They end up signing their dog over to us as a release and because the dog is very sick we end up having to euthanize the animal," said Elaine Thaxton, manager of the Trenton Animal Shelter.
400 free doses of the parvovirus vaccine will be available to residents of the 08618 ZIP code only. Officers say getting the vaccine could be a lifesaver for your family's dog.
"Any dog can catch this virus at any time, but as long as you're keeping up with the proper care, vaccinations and instructions and advice from the vets office you should be able to prevent this," said Animal Control Officer Jose Munoz.
For residents of the 08618 area code, there will be a free parvovirus vaccination clinic at Cadwalader Park on Saturday, September 20th from 3pm to 5pm. You must show proof you live in the area.