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59 cats euthanized at Harnett County animal shelter after exposure to deadly disease

Posted June 27

Purr Cup Cafe, which hopes to open a permanent cat cafe in spring 2018 in Raleigh, organized a pop-up cafe at Read With Me, the new children's book store in downtown Raleigh.

— 59 cats — 11 adult cats and 48 kittens — were euthanized at the Harnett County Animal Shelter last week after exposure to the highly contagious and deadly panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper.

A spokesperson for Harnett County said the cats were euthanized as a public safety measure.

Another 41 cats at the shelter were not exposed to the disease and were not euthanized.

SPCA of Wake County contacted Harnett County Animal Services on June 15 to report that kittens that came from Harnett County had tested positive for feline distemper.

Shelter Cats

On June 19, shelter staff first learned that a litter of kittens, which had been adopted out from the shelter, had died from the highly contagious and life-threatening viral disease.

The veterinarian observed the shelter’s remaining cats for any signs of sickness and did not find any, but on June 20, animal shelter staff discovered that a cat had died in the shelter.

After that cat tested positive for the disease, the shelter then made the decision to euthanize the exposed cats.

Pet Photos June 2017

Harnett County staff planned to spend this week cleaning and disinfecting the cat room. They will resume taking in stray cats on Thursday.

Four kittens from the shelter, which were adopted last weekend by two families, may have come into contact with the cats that tested positive for feline distemper before the quarantine began. Shelter staff are trying to contact those families.

WRAL Pet of the Day

Animal Services staff have made attempts to contact the two adopters, but have been unsuccessful.

Symptoms of the disease include vomiting, diarrhea, complete loss of interest in food, dehydration, weight loss and high fever.

The disease is highly contagious among cats but not communicable to dogs and is not related to canine distemper.


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  • Nicolle Leney Jun 27, 6:25 p.m.
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    June 15: Harnett County Animal Services (HCAS) notified about a litter SPCA pulled testing positive. "Animal control staff consulted with county consulting veterinarian Dr. Ralph Houser, who instructed them to clean and disinfect areas where the cats came into contact, which they did. The remaining cats were examined for any signs of sickness and did not exhibit any at the time."

    June 19: A rescue notified HCAS that a litter of kittens adopted from shelter died from feline distemper. (assuming different litter)" Dr. Houser observed the shelter’s remaining cats for any signs of sickness and did not find any."

    June 20: Cat discovered dead in shelter. "Staff immediately quarantined the remaining cats at the animal shelter with no additional cats being admitted."

    June 23, State lab informed HCAS that the dead cat tested positive. State lab and vet recommended euthanizing exposed cats.

  • Nicolle Leney Jun 27, 6:22 p.m.
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    These articles may give a little more detail:

    It sounds like they did respond to the situation, probably following procedures for this type of thing. From the articles , I think this is the timeline (see next post, timeline doesn't fit in the character limit). Quotes are directly from the Daily Record article.

  • Patrick Gentry Jun 27, 5:19 p.m.
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    Actually I misread and your right they didn't discover it till the 20th.

  • Patrick Gentry Jun 27, 5:18 p.m.
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    It says in the article they checked the cats when notified by Wake County SPCA that a kitten from their shelter tested positive for distemper but found no signs of the disease at that time.

  • Betty Harmon Jun 27, 3:57 p.m.
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    I am very interested in knowing what happened - if anything - between June 15th when the facility was notified and June 19th, when the litter died. I have been told that the staff did nothing and would like this verified.