Nightmares at Catawba Co Animal Shelter

Catawba Co Animal Shelter in NC has had a terrible virus infecting their shelter pets for the past month.  They’ve tried to find out what it is by having tests done at animal virus labs but haven’t had any luck.  The illness is “very difficult to treat”:

“It’s a mystery,” Jay Blatche, the shelter’s animal services manager, said. “It is a very bad disease. Everyone here is saddened by what we are doing today. There’s been some tears and I’m sure there will be some nightmares for our staff.”

Tears and nightmares?  Well certainly treating sick pets can be exhausting and it is probably very taxing on the staff to maintain isolation wards on any sort of large scale – wait, what’s that you say?  You’re not treating the sick pets and keeping the pets without symptoms separate from them?  You’re just going to temporarily shut down and kill all 200 animals – even the healthy ones?  Oh.

The shelter typically takes 30 animals a day, but is not accepting animals from the public during the temporary closure.

The kennels will undergo a thorough sanitation process that includes cleaning with bleach, detergent and antimicrobial agents, as well as pressure cleaning with hot water. The entire shelter will be cleaned, along with the heating and air conditioning system.

To my mind, those thorough sanitation procedures sound like a good idea for an animal shelter to perform regularly.  Not just on special, kill-em-all occasions.  In addition, there are a number of other standard disease prevention protocols for shelters that might come in useful for Catawba Co such as veterinary exam upon admittance and subsequent vaccination/isolation as deemed appropriate.  Just thought I’d mention that, in case you want to avoid tears and nightmares in the future.

10 thoughts on “Nightmares at Catawba Co Animal Shelter

  1. I wouldn’t assume they don’t have sanitation protocols in place or intake examination ones in place, either.

    They’ve submitted samples to several reputable agencies, including Cornell, which as you know, has one of the best veterinary teaching hospitals in the world.

    The disease is a virus, it’s not treatable, only the secondary bacterial infections are. If it’s a long-lasting virus or one that sheds continuously, it’s going to pose a significant health threat to all area dogs and cats the affected animal comes in contact with (depending on how it’s transmitted, and they don’t know).

    When you have the public entering and exiting, touching/interacting with the animals, and adopting out potentially infected animals, you are a HUGE vector for the spread of such unknown diseases.

    I’m not saying the answer is to kill all the animals. I think it makes more sense to work with veterinary clinics and Cornell and set up temporary quarantine and monitor affected animals. You’d do that with personal pets…these animals were often once personal pets and their end goal is to be adopted, right? So treat them that way.

  2. About Catawba Co AC:

    They hold strays for 3 working days.

    Impounded feral cats are killed.

    Impounded pets in need of urgent veterinary care will be killed unless they have an ID tag on them. If they have an ID tag, AC will try to reach the owner but if the owner can’t be “readily” reached, the pet will be killed.

    Should the county declare your dog “dangerous”, you have to pay the county to board your dog while you erect a 15 X 6 X 6 chain-link pen with a roof and concrete pad at least 2 inches thick. You have to lock the dog in with a child resistant lock and post signs. Everything has to be inspected and approved by AC before you can pay your boarding bill & get your dog back. AC can come back at any time for re-inspection. You have to buy $500k liability insurance. The dog can not be allowed out of the pen, even on your own property, unless you have him leashed. To take the dog off your property, you must have the dog leashed and muzzled. If the dog has to be out of the pen for medical reasons, the vet has to write up regular reports for the county and the owner must pay to have the dog boarded at the vet until the dog is well enough to return to the pen.
    And a link which provides some insight into the shelter.

  3. All over again.

    UC Davis helped OSPCA Newmarket shelter identify an “unusually virulent” strain of ringworm that would have resulted in the deaths of the 350 animals at the shelter, had the public not stepped in. A handful of animals turned out to have regular ringworm. Apparently, there was also some mildew.

  4. 5 years ago we had an outbreak of Feline Distemper. We know where it came from (a litter of kittens from the local Animal Control that we took in so they wouldn’t be euthanzied). Over the following weeks, dozens and dozens of cats died- staff would come in in the morning, and cats and kittens that appeared healthy hours ago at closing would be dead in their cage- that’s how fast the disease worked.
    The illness started on the adoption floor, but quickly spread to Incoming Kittens, Stray Ward, and then finally Cat Ward. The local animal control also had cats with the illness. Recently Adopted cats were dying in their new homes.
    We have 2 vets on staff, and vaccinate every animal immediately upon incoming (before they’re even placed in a kennel or cage). Cages are cleaned everyday, items and kennels are sterilized or routinely bleached. So, after struggling with this for weeks, we finally realized that having cats in the building was only dooming them to a death of drowning in their own fluids.
    We let the public know that during the month of August we would not be accepting cats. And that any cats that were left in the building at that time would have to be euthanized. The following day every cat on the adoption floor was adopted. Something like 30% ended up dying in their new home, but we were honest with adopters and we never had a single complaint (we actually had a couple letters letting us know what a wonderful home the cat had before passing away).
    We then spent the next month cleaning and bleaching every surface every day. The shelter probably had never been so clean.
    We got a lot of flak from the community and local limited admission shelters- why weren’t these ill cats getting treatment (there isn’t one, it was spreading too fast, we couldn’t afford supporting therapy for the dozens and dozens of cats that were getting sick every day), but after struggling with this, and under advisement of our veterinarians, this is the solution we eventually came to.
    We still had to euthanize holding cats- cats that weren’t able to be placed for adoption that day due to health or behavior. At the time they all appeared healthy (as any animal that began to show symptoms were immediately euthanized and the cage placed under quarantine). We had a grief counselor come in and staff cried and shared stories.
    5 years later, and we STILL think about that. New Disease protocols always take this incident into account. This outbreak had a resounding affect on our organization.

    SO, when i hear similar stories about things like this, my heart goes out to them. i’m not there, so i don’t know how much time, effort, and money they’ve already put into avoiding this outcome. But i do know this- i have yet to meet a shelter worker that WANTS to euthanize animals. And certainly no organization wants the PR that comes with a decision like this.

    1. Thanks for relating your story Anne. I think offering the cats for adoption with a “you’ve been advised” waiver was a good idea since the funding for supportive therapy was unavailable. My impression is that Catawba Co does not care about PR. If they did, they might consider some of the suggestions made to them about TNR and low cost neuter clinics. They could get good press AND save lives.

      1. My shelter doesn’t currently offer TNR (though a couple other local groups do, so a referral is easy enough). We also aren’t able to provide subsidized Sterilization due to state law (have to be owned by a vet to practice vet medecine on public animals), but we’re looking for loopholes in that as well :-)

  5. Anne’s story also shows the value of providing low-cost vaccination clinics if humanly possible, because reducing the percentage of vulnerable cats in the general population helps slow down the spread of disease.

    I would imagine the same legal reasons that stop her shelter offering low cost neutering would be a problem, though.

  6. i called the virus labs and they didn,t know what i was talking about they also told me there was no virus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. This issue was never resolved as far as I know. I called the NC Dept. of Health to find information. They told me they were aware of the situation, but were not monitoring it carefully. They referred me to the Animal Control staff, who had nothing to say other than what the media had reported a week after the story appeared.

    I remain curious about this “mystery” illness, and am disappointed in the thundering silence that seems to follow this episode in Newton Co. NC.

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