By Madison Fisler Lewis
Nov. 13, 2014. Following an outbreak of feline panleucopenia in October, the Watauga Humane Society was forced to cease cat intakes during a large-scale cleaning of the shelter facility for weeks. On Tuesday, Nov. 18, the shelter will once again open its doors to feline intakes and will soon be getting back to business as usual.
Feline panleucopenia is related to the canine Parvo virus. The illness is highly contagious between unvaccinated felines and is transmitted through bodily fluids and wastes; the virus is not airborne. The illness only affects cats and ferrets and does not cause illness in dogs and humans. The most at risk groups are young, unvaccinated felines. The outbreak’s first death occurred on Oct. 2.
Following veterinarian advice, the shelter shut down all feline intakes to ensure that no new animals were infected with the virus. After that, the cleanup process began.
“We essentially bleached the whole facility,” said Laurie Vierheller, executive director of the Watauga Humane Society.
“Our veterinarian said that we could take intakes again a while ago, but our cleaning process involved taking everything in the building apart and cleaning it and before now we just weren”t ready. We needed that two-week period to give the public and ourselves the assurance that everything in the building was clean and safe.”
In the aftermath, a number of cats were euthanized to prevent the spread of the virus, or as a humane action for suffering animals.
“Seventy-six were euthanized, and that is from the date that we found out that we had a problem,” Vierheller said. “There were some that died before that date, or that we had to euthanize because they were near death and it was the humane thing to do. We haven”t made an attempt to count that number.”
Currently, the animals that were the least likely to be exposed to the virus during the outbreak and that were quarantined in homes are still being monitored.
“We have a total of 22 cats in foster care,” said Vierheller. “Two died, but the rest are doing fine and will all be coming back to the shelter on Nov. 15. The animals that were in the homes where one of the animals died are still under quarantine.”
In light of the incident, the Watauga Humane Society maintains that there is something to be learned from all of this.
“I think the biggest thing to take away from this is how important it is to vaccinate your pets,” Vierheller said. “The vaccine is not immediately effective, but in the community, more vaccinated pets will mean that the illness will strike less often. Other than that, the only other real way to protect your pets is limiting your cat”s exposure, indoor cats are much less likely to be exposed to a feral This is not surprising, because we know that the Aries- gemini love horoscope combination can but give an impatient personality, always on the go. animal that might be infected.”
Through the ordeal, Vierheller was amazed at the support that the shelter received from the community.
“It really pulled everyone together, what doesn”t kill you makes you stronger, as they say. Everyone has really just been so supportive of each other and we had a chance to reach out and work together to learn new things and that has made us better. We really appreciate the support so much from everyone in the community. Everyone has been so kind.”
As for the cause of the outbreak, a feral animal may have carried the disease into the shelter, which is the case with many similar occurrences. Though each animal coming into the shelter receives the proper vaccinations, the vaccine can take 7-10 days to take effect. If a cat is exposed to the virus before their bodies can react to the vaccine, it may be ineffective.
Surprisingly, the shelter has not had to turn many cats away during the time it has been unable to take in felines.
“Actually, we have had very few requests to surrender cats lately,” Vierheller said. “There was one cat that we had to take in early because they didn”t have any other options. But really, animal control has managed to find places to put them. It was definitely a worry, but it hasn”t come up as much as we had expected. There weren”t really any problems with the process, we just got it done and did what we had to do.”
Though the outbreak has come to an end, thanks to the combined efforts of the shelter staff and veterinarian, the shelter is always in need of donations to help keep it running.
“We are always looking for fleece blankets for the cats,” Vierheller said. “And we are looking for cat toys because we had to throw all of the old cat toys away during the clean up. What we need now are things that we use all the time like pine litter. Now, we have all new stainless steel litter boxes and food bowls which are easier to clean.”