Shelter cats quarantined due to overpopulation, illness

Published 8:51 am Monday, May 2, 2016

Contributed Photo  Patches and her kitten Spaz have been at the shelter since mid-March, and Heiden said Patches feels motherhood is overrated.

Contributed Photo
Patches and her kitten Spaz have been at the shelter since mid-March, and Heiden said Patches feels motherhood is overrated.

Overpopulation of animal shelters can lead to a variety of problems ranging from animal health to funding and even staff morale. In July 2015, the Washington County Animal Shelter had to euthanize all of its cats and kittens — 276 of them — due to rampant infection.

The Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter (ECCAS) is currently fighting the same battle, with its entire cat population in quarantine. Shelter Director Stacey Heiden said the healthy cats went to Petsense, which typically helps adopt shelter pets, and the rest are in quarantine. The numbers of euthanized cats are up as well, but Heiden said they are doing everything in their power to restore health and save them.

The overpopulation and illness at the shelter is just a symptom of overpopulation in the community, Heiden said.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It’s a balancing act between dealing with the onslaught of cats and kittens the public brings to us for a myriad of reasons and trying to adopt or rescue them out alive, and on the other end to maintain a “no-kill” status as the public expects of us,” she said. “Until Carter County gets serious about the health and welfare of our cats and starts looking at them as family members rather than varmints who poop in their flower pots, we are just spinning our wheels.”

Though she said the new shelter is “110 percent better” than the old shelter, she said its cattery areas were never built for long term stays for feline residents.

“Due to the sometimes alarming number of cats we can receive in a day, we can completely overwhelm areas that were meant for incoming cats and overflow into the cats here for a longer term,” Heiden said. “We simply run out of room.”

To help combat this ongoing issue, the shelter has contracted with an in-house veterinarian, Dr. Ashley Eisenback for the last six months.

“She has been instrumental in diagnosing, vaccinating, & prescribing medications who can increase the health of our cats that deserve a second chance at a long and healthy life,” Heiden said.

She said they have all the ingredients for a successful live release rate for the cats, including excellent foster homes, rescues, spay and neuter resources, adoption events with low income resource vouchers, Petsense, the lowest adoption rates in the Tri-Cities, and fully vetted cats and kittens.

“You would think we had it covered, but our numbers tell a different story,” Heiden said.

Shelter records show cats put to sleep in April  total 41, following March February and January, in which no more than 15 were put to sleep each month. However, the direct correlation between animals put to sleep and intake of pets is evident in the last four month of 2015, in which each month had a cat intake of between 79 and 99 cats. In each of these months, between 17 and 75 cats were put to sleep. Meanwhile, in the same four months, between 22 and 42 cats were adopted each month.

“In February and March, our numbers were excellent, but the outbreak of pan-leukemia this month makes it impossible,” she said. “You cannot tell which are infected and they can even be carriers to pass it on to other cats.”

Heiden said the overpopulation increases the chances of disease spreading, and the new environment stress the cats, weakening their immune systems.

“We battle with upper respiratory infection and pan-leukemia on a daily basis,” Heiden said. “There is only so much we can do to keep the cats healthy as long as we have them for.”

She said almost 99 percent of the cats that come to the shelter are un-vaccinated and susceptible to catching disease and dying from pan-leukemia.

“There is no cure,” Heiden said. “Seniors, neonates, middle aged, indoor/outdoor, feral or domestic — the virus does not discriminate.”

Upon intake, she said each cat receives a vaccination, wormer and flea treatment. She said that vaccination is also the inoculation for pan-leukemia.

“The trouble is the virus is already here in the shelter and much like canine parvo, it stays in the surroundings for over a year,” Heiden said.

She said there is a week-long window in which the cat does not yet have full immunity.

“If it is exposed in that window of time, the vaccination will have no effect and the cat will die,” Heiden said.

They take every precaution as is humanly possible to limit exposure, she said. They follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, use top kennel cleaning products and proper sterilizing protocols along with the direction of Dr. Eisenback, she said.

“Spread can be as simple as anyone innocently sticking their fingers in a cage to pet a cat and moving on to the next room and repeating that,” Heiden said.

Other than sanitizing between petting the cats, she said one thing people could do to reduce the numbers of sick cats is to vaccinate them. She said cat RHCP vaccines are available at Tractor Supply Company for about $7, and that if the cat can stay with the person who found it for one week, it will have a much better chance at resistance to pan-leukemia once it arrives at the shelter. If people do this and bring the wrapper from the vaccine with the date it was administered, she said this could be a step towards fighting the illness.

Additionally, she said kittens should be eight weeks old before they come to the shelter or the likelihood of their survival with undeveloped immune systems is unlikely.

“We only have so many foster homes they can go to,” she said.

Improvements she said they could make at the shelter to alleviate these issues would include a proper air rate exchange system, as she said the current system is not strong enough to support the current cat population.

“Our shelter at maximum cage space can hold 70 adults,” Heiden said. “But 70 cats in an area with an inadequate air filtration system and lack of room to exercise is not ideal to support optimum long term health and well being.”

They are currently working on plans and funding to expand the cat area to include an enrichment free-roam room, cleverly dubbed a “catio,” as well as a properly-sized intake holding room where they can be monitored for two weeks and cleared with the doctor’s approval to be moved into the adoptable area.

Currently all medications are funded by the Friends of ECCAS, and Heiden said they are vital. She said donations to ECCAS are tax deductible and can support the creation of the “catio” as well as the supply of vaccines.

She said the most viable solution to these problems is for the public to be educated about the resources that exist and to take advantage of those resources. They must also care about the impact of their decisions when they choose not to vaccinate and spay or neuter, she said.
“If the public refuses to care enough to vaccinate and spay or neuter their companion cats, the problem will only get worse,” Heiden said. “It multiplies and shows up on the shelter’s door step with th
e plea of ‘It’s not my cat.’”

She said these cats were someone’s only one or two generation’s prior, and that it is everyone’s job to take responsibility for the county cat population.

“It’s within us all to be good pet stewards and be responsible for those we choose to feed,” she said. “With local resources and organizations to help combat overpopulation and hunger, there is no reason for us to be receiving an unmanageable amount of cats and kittens at the shelter every month.”

Resources that provide low cost spay and neuter vouchers include the Carter County Humane Society (423-547-3031) and East Tennessee Spay and Neuter (423-289-5548). In addition, Appalachian Feral Cat Allies (423-743-7081) facilitates a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats in order to allow them to continue living in the community without reproducing.

The ECCAS foster program (423-547-6359) is always accepting applicants, which Heiden said keeps the animals out of the shelter and in a less stressful, more spacious environment. Petsense (423-518-1055) hosts a vaccine clinic from 9:30-11 a.m. every Saturday for rabies, boosters, bordatella, cat vaccines, worming and microchipping. Saturday $10 rabies clinics are also offered on Saturdays at various schools. That schedule is posted at the shelter. Margaret B. Mitchell Spay and Neuter Clinic (276-591-5790) also has a mid-month vaccine clinics.