NILES - Warren JFK senior James Mitolo has always considered himself a dog lover.
"That goes way back to when I was little," Mitolo said. "It wasn't until I was in eighth grade when I rescued my first dog from the Trumbull County dog pound when I realized there was such a need for rescue."
Since that realization, Mitolo has devoted himself to pooches in need of homes by founding the Paws With A Cause advocacy group in 2012.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Warren JFK High School seniors Cara Moten, 17, left, and James Mitolo, 18, give some welcome attention to Carson, a German shepherd / collie mix, on Saturday afternoon at Pet Supplies Plus in Niles during a fundraiser. Carson was stricken with parvo in September. He has fully recovered with the help of the students, who founded the group Paws With a Cause, and Legacy Dog Rescue.
"I realized none of my peers knew anything about rescuing dogs and the plight of homeless animals in our area," Mitolo said. "I didn't know when I started if there were going to be five of us at these events or 25, but it turned out that there's a huge outpouring of support.
"Everybody came out and wanted to help. Even if they weren't a dog person, there are other ways they can help."
In September, a JFK High School guidance counselor approached the group about fostering a dog. He was directed by PWAC to Youngstown's Legacy Dog Rescue, which immediately went to work trying to match a dog with family.
A German shepherd / collie mix named Carson was chosen, but when Legacy retrieved the dog, they discovered a problem.
"He ended up with parvo, which is a very treatable, preventable disease with a very low-cost vaccine, but it can also be deadly," Jennifer Obermier, Legacy official, said.
Mitolo knew the diagnois was a serious one.
"During the summer, PWAC also dealt with a case of parvo with a litter of puppies that we helped transport from South Carolina to Ohio," he said. "We were aware of the disease and how devastating it can be.
"As soon as we heard about the situation, we wanted to do a benefit as soon as possible."
Carson was fully cured of the virus last month, but officials with Legacy said curing the ailment can become quite costly due to antibiotics, hospitalization and other measures that need to be taken.
To help, PWAC and Legacy hosted a fundraiser for Carson on Saturday afternoon at Pet Supplies Plus in Niles. The groups also used the event to educate customers on the symptoms and causes of parvo.
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that can produce a life-threatening illness. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog's body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells.
According to Legacy official Blaze Brush, symptoms for parvo in dogs appear similarly to a bad flu in humans.
"Some of the symptoms are vomiting, bloody stool, very lethargic, won't eat or drink much," Brush said. "Treatment for it, it is just a virus that has to run its course, but you can give supportive care in terms of IV fluids, antibiotics and medicine to slow down the vomiting."
Parvovirus vaccines are widely available, but Brush said dogs in rescues or pounds often haven't been vaccinated and they are most likely to contract the virus while in close quarters.
"Parvo is highly contagious to other dogs," Brush said. "Parvo itself usually won't kill the dog. It's the secondary infections or bacteria that will come in, because of the low white blood cells. The antibiotics take care of helping to fight off the other stuff."
A dog's age is paramount in the chance of survival, according to Brush, with dogs under six months having the highest mortality rate. Carson is just more than a year old, which worked in his favor.
"I felt very confident that he'd survive it," Brush said.
The group raised approximately $250 toward Carson's treatment, Legacy officials said.
Rich Schlote, a manager with Pet Supply Plus, said the store welcomes working with Legacy and PWAC to help educate the public.
"People don't realize how animals don't get parvo," Schlote said. "It's important for people to know how dogs get parvo, what symptoms to look for and things like that. It just gives people who come in the store more knowledge so they don't have to deal with something like this later on."
Pet Supplies Plus will host the groups again in December for a fundraising drive.