Crowded and underfunded shelter causes animal sickness, death

Arynn TomsonArt Director

The Erath County Humane Society serves Stephenville and surrounding areas. Photo courtesy of the ECHS Facebook page.

A Tarleton State University student adopted a kitten from the local shelter and one week later, the kitten died due to sickness. The student says the death occurred due to a lack of medical attention while at the shelter. Both the shelter and the student hope this will bring awareness to issues that arise in local shelters. 

Megan Reynolds, a sophomore nursing major, adopted a two-month-old kitten from the Erath County Humane Society (ECHS) in late September. It died one week later, and Reynolds posted on Twitter about the phone call she had with shelter when she informed them of the kitten’s death.  

“I called the Erath humane shelter I got my kitten from one week ago because she passed this morning due to inadequate treatment while being there, so I called and they said ‘Sorry’ then hung up on me,” Reynolds’ tweet said. 

According to Reynolds, her kitten started having seizures around 4 a.m. on Oct. 4, and she had to wait until the veterinary clinic opened for the kitten to be seen. Reynolds stayed close to the kitten to comfort it during the seizures. 

“I was just trying to hold her and pet her and just talk to her while trying to keep her warm. (The vet) said the worms took over her body and led to infection, which traveled to her brain, causing the seizing,” Reynolds said.  

Serena Wright, the director of the ECHS, said she would never knowingly adopt out an animal that showed any signs of sickness.  

“I believed the kitten to be healthy at the time it was adopted, or I would not have adopted it out. Most medications and vaccinations cannot be given until they are a certain age. If this kitten was under 9 weeks of age, it would not have been dewormed or vaccinated,” Wright said. 

Wright said she believed the kitten may have gotten sick at the shelter but did not show symptoms until it was too late. 

“We are having a sickness with our cats. It is called feline panleukopenia. It started about the same (time) this kitten was adopted. We had a couple of kittens show sickness, but the others appeared healthy. After I got the call about the kitten, we put all our cats (in) quarantine,” Wright said.  

The Veterinary Centers of America website describes panleukopenia as a “decrease in the number of all of the white blood cells in the body. White blood cells play a major role in immunity and are important in defending against infections and diseases. Feline panleukopenia (FPL) is caused by a virus of the parvovirus family known as feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV). Parvoviruses are extremely tough viruses and are only killed by strong disinfectants including 2% household bleach. FPLV can survive in some environments for a year or more.” 

Wright says the virus can be present in cats, but the symptoms are not apparent for days.  

“The incubation period of Panleukopenia can take up to 14 days. Cats that are exposed to it can shed the virus for two to three days before showing signs,” Wright said. calls panleukopenia one of the deadliest cat diseases and that only 10% of cats have survived the virus.  

Reynolds says that she understands the issues present in the shelter, but she did not appreciate the way the phone call went, saying it was “uncalled for” on her Twitter page. 

Wright says she was unaware that Reynolds was hung up on during a phone call.  

“I only had one call where someone’s kitten died after it was adopted, and I apologized. The death of an animal, whether you have had it a week or one year, is an emotional time,” Wright said. “I then explained that in our adoption agreement it says we cannot guarantee the health of our animals.” 

Wright says the employees and volunteers at the shelter do all they can to ensure a healthy environment for their animals, but due to limited resources, keeping up with the needs of a crowded shelter is difficult. 

“Our shelter is extremely underfunded and over capacity,” Wright said. “Our true capacity is 26 dogs and about 20 cats. We are pushing 70 dogs and 40 cats. The shelter is not in the greatest shape, but we clean and sanitize daily. Clean pens, scoop poop, fresh food and water…It is hard to keep all the animals healthy when there are so many unvaccinated animals that come in. If any animal shows symptoms of any illness, we do take them to the vet.” 

Wright says that she understands the pain of a pet dying, and the shelter honors their contract that states a new pet can be adopted if an incident occurs. She said that if an animal adopted from ECHS gets sick within two weeks, they may bring it back and will be able to get a new animal. Wright urges the community to spay, neuter and vaccinate their animals to help prevent more animal sickness and death.  

“I sincerely apologize that this young lady lost her kitten,” Wright said. “I understand that it was hard on her. When our cats are off quarantine and we are sure they are all completely healthy, she is welcome to get another cat, just as our agreement states.”  

Reynolds says she has not spoken to anyone at the shelter since the incident. She also says that adopting from a shelter can be a risk and warns those looking to adopt to be aware of those risks. 

“Adopting is always a great option, and it feels great knowing you are rescuing a precious animal, but just to be cautious, because they could need more medical attention and sometimes it could already be too late by the time you adopt,” Reynolds said. 

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