Deadly feline disease taking toll on rescue

·4 min read

A Smiths Falls cat rescue has been affected by a deadly disease and is reaching out for community support.

Furry Tales Rescue was asked to help take in cats that were discovered in a hoarding situation in Quebec. The local rescue was prepared to take in 16 cats out of the 60 coming from the hoarding situation to keep the cats and kittens out of high-kill pounds.

Upon arrival many of the cats were very ill, while six had already died without the knowledge of Furry Tales Rescue, despite local asking about the medical condition of the cats, said Donna MacRae, founder of the rescue.

The cats and kittens were diagnosed with a deadly virus, panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, which causes vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea and sudden death, stated the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society website.

"They were all extremely filthy, malnourished and in terrible condition," said MacRae.

For the past week the rescue has been a revolving door of veterinarians trying to save the cats, and two were hospitalized at two different clinics in the area.

Of the four adult cats and 12 kittens that the local rescue took in, there were only six survivors, which have now been vaccinated.

Currently the cats are doing well and were in good health when the veterinarian checked them out on Sunday, but the countdown is on as it takes two weeks before they're out of danger.

"We'll hopefully have good news in two weeks," said MacRae.

Furry Tales isn't the only rescue devastated by this virus; two others help take in cats from the hoarding situation and most have died as well, said MacRae.

Only 25 cats left the shelter in Quebec and only 11 survived, meaning there could still be 35 infected cats.

"There's a huge problem that this could become quite a pandemic there," she added.

The handful of cats is now at a foster home to continue to quarantine. The cats were previously staying in one of two of the facilities the rescue has but after discovering the virus, the rescue made the call to permanently close the facility, as the virus is extremely infectious and can last in an environment for up to a year and continue to infect the cats.

Luckily the other cats in care with Furry Tales Rescue weren't in the facility and haven't been affected by the virus.

The hope for the local rescue is to refurbish a new building that is currently just a shell into a new cat shelter that has a small veterinary exam room in it, and sterilize and gut the old facility for it to hold supplies.

A GoFundMe campaign was created by a friend of MacRae, Wendy Barrett-Stuart, on behalf of Furry Tales Rescue as it continues to go through the trying time of vet bills and other financial responsibility dealing with the impacts of the deadly virus.

Currently the rescue is working at half capacity, meaning it's not able to take in the same number of cats it was once able to, now that it is down a facility.

It's not just a financial impact; it also takes an emotional toll on the staff members and fosters as well, as they work at half capacity and deal with the infectious virus, said MacRae.

The majority of the GoFundMe funds will be used for veterinary bills from the chaotic week the rescue just faced, and whatever is left over will be used to help retrofit the building for the cat shelter and the exam room.

About $5,500 has been used for the vet bills so far, said MacRae.

"It was the most horrendous week ever," said MacRae. "Our community has always been so gracious and supportive."

The campaign has currently raised over $8,000 of the $10,000 goal in just a couple of days.

The volunteer-run organization said many shelters of rescues don’t share when they've been affected by the virus in fear that it will make people wary of adopting, but Furry Tales Rescue felt it was only fair to let its supporters know.

"It's not going to impact any cats that they adopt, now and in the future because we have very serious protocols in place about this," said MacRae.

According to MacRae, feline panleukopenia is one of the four core diseases that are vaccinated against but the cats that were delivered to them last week were not. MacRae said because the cats weren't vaccinated and were rather young, that once the virus is in a home or business it spreads like wildfire.

The rescue is hoping that the building will be completed by the end of November.

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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