By News Staff Reporters
MOUNT VERNON — Disaster struck the Knox County Humane Society recently in the form of an airborne upper respiratory infection that affected cats at the cat shelter. Approximately 24 infected cats were later euthanized.
“The Knox County Humane Society had a highly infectious upper respiratory virus that affected all of our cats. This type of virus transmits through the air and, though not impossible to control with one or two cats, with our volume, unfortunately, this was virtually impossible,” Humane Society Director Anna Hess told the News on Monday.
“These types of issues happen occasionally where there are many involved. Under the circumstances, after exploring several other options, we felt that we had no choice but to put the cats to sleep. ... I hope the public will understand that euthanizing the cats was not something that any of the board members or staff wished to do. We simply felt that we had no choice.”
Dr. Amanda Rogers, veterinarian at Complete Care Animal Hospital on Harcourt Road told the News she was contacted by the humane society on Nov. 23, regarding euthanizing the cats. The process, Rogers said, involves an anesthesia which puts the cats to sleep before an injection of Fatal Plus follows. “It’s completely painless and in accordance with the guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association,” said Rogers.
She recommended that the shelter then be closed for at least a week to rid the shelter of any remaining virus.
“[The virus] will generally run its course, and then most of the cats recover. But the problem is, without [euthanizing], they would have had to close the shelter for a month and would have been unable to do any spay/neuter programs, and adopt anything out/in and just let everything run its course through there,” said Rogers. “I think the decision was made that the greater good would be to continue to spay/neuter programs and the low-cost stuff that they do for the public.”
Dr. Greg Price of Town and Country Veterinary Clinic said that three deceased cats were brought to him as early as Nov. 13, showing signs of an upper respiratory infection which were then taken to an Ohio Department of Agriculture diagnostic laboratory for testing. Results showed that a Bordetella Bronchiseptica virus was present, although Price was unsure if this was the primary pathogen which was causing the illness.
“They want to adopt out healthy cats, and there was something obviously going through. Whatever the organism is, it appears to be resistant to antibiotics,” said Price. “It was more than just a casual approach. It was a pretty structured organized approach to figure out what the organism was and how to treat these animals before the decision was made to depopulate.”
Rogers and Price both believe that a few cats may have been adopted out which were carrying the virus. Price believes that cats can survive with the virus, believing that it is not necessarily fatal.
“They (cat shelter) have the responsibility to take in unwanted cats and deal with them, and also to adopt out healthy cats. I think they went above and beyond to try and do it the right way,” said Price. “I think they did everything they could in an attempt to get it figured out and to do the right thing and have the courage to make some tough choices. It was a ‘no-win’ situation. But it was probably the only way to break that cycle.”
Carole Rennie Jarvis, humane society board chairperson, said that in mid-November a number of kittens arrived at the shelter with runny noses. They were spayed and neutered and quarantined in the basement when they first arrived.
“We thought it was just the room,” she said, “but then the older cats started getting sick. One of our vets recommended cleaning the air ducts and they were full of cat hair. The next step was to have the furnace guy come and he showed us how to clean and replace the filter.”
“Unfortunately,” she said, “there was a lot of stuff we learned in hindsight. The furnace was circulating the virus through the shelter.”
Approximately two dozen cats had to be euthanized because, Jarvis said, “It was cruel to let them suffer.” But treatment was very expensive and the shelter budget couldn’t support treating that many cats.
“Every one of us took a cat home to take care of them to keep them from getting sick. We disassembled all of the cages and disinfected them and we’ve spaced them farther apart.”
She added, “It was a very painful process. It was making a small mistake that magnified and we’re going to be smarter and if anyone can learn from us then we want them to know. We love the cats and we’re very emotional about it.”
The shelter is able to take new cats again, and part of the learning process resulted in a new intake procedure. Now incoming cats will be treated with a nasal vaccine that is a preventative for the virus.
In 2011, approximately 680 cats were adopted from the shelter.
News staff reporters Chuck Martin, Alan Reed and Rhonda Bletner contributed to this story.