Approximately 40 kittens were given lethal injections at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on June 12 after a wave of a feline virus. Some cats were sick, but others had just come into contact with the virus, according to Danyelle Van Horn, the shelter’s director of operations.
The shelter was hit with a wave of feline panleukopenia, which the American Veterinary Medical Association says is a deadly viral disease caused by the feline parvovirus. After attempts to contain the virus, Van Horn said the shelter decided to put to death all kittens under the age of 4 months.
Most of the kittens were around 8 weeks old, she said. Quarantine is possible, but the incubation period for panleukopenia is 14 days.
“More than likely, they would have come down with it,” Van Horn said.
The viral disease is highly contagious, especially among young cats who are not yet old enough to receive any vaccinations. The virus wave came during an especially busy kitten season, with a high volume of animals coming in and out, Van Horn said.
Symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, loss of appetite and neurological issues, she added.
“It was horrible and a very hard week for the staff for sure,” Van Horn said.
Laura Lyon, a volunteer for the Humane Society, expressed her frustration with the nonprofit’s handling of the virus, believing the kittens died in the shelter’s “negligent hands.” She said she has been a volunteer for five years.
“This has never happened before and many of us are sick to our stomachs over it,” Lyon said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
At the time of the virus wave, Lyon was fostering three kittens for the shelter. She was told to bring the kittens back in on June 6, as they had achieved the weight necessary for adoption and received medical treatment, including the vaccine for feline panleukopenia, Lyon said.
She decided not to bring the kittens back at that time because of the virus. Lyon said she fears that if she had brought the cats back to the shelter, they would have been put to death along with the other kittens.
On Tuesday, Lyon returned the kittens to the shelter, having been assured normal operations had resumed.
The Humane Society serves as both a shelter and a hospital. According to its website, the organization is “dedicated to the highest standards in animal sheltering and veterinary care.”
The nonprofit recently gained publicity when seven Persian cats fell under their care after a Tampa woman left her mansion and an inheritance to the animals, and a Hillsborough County probate judge ruled that they needed to find new homes.
Lyon said she was frustrated to see the shelter in the spotlight as she continues to grapple with the deaths of the 40 kittens.
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“There’s been a lot of shock and a lot of grief,” she said.