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Shelter dealing with deadly cat virus

It's an emotional time for staff and volunteers at the New Westminster Animal Shelter. The City of New Westminster is taking action to contain an outbreak of calicivirus at the Queensborough shelter.
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Off limits: Cats at the New Westminster Animal Shelter are under quarantine after a virus was discovered.

It's an emotional time for staff and volunteers at the New Westminster Animal Shelter.

The City of New Westminster is taking action to contain an outbreak of calicivirus at the Queensborough shelter. So far six cats have been euthanized because of the virus.

"It is a very infections viral feline disease," said Blair Fryer, the city's communications manager. "It has a very high mortality rate and can spread easily and quickly if it is not contained."

A veterinarian was visiting the shelter Tuesday afternoon to check the cats, which are currently in quarantine. Anyone dealing with the animals is required to wear full biohazard gear.

Fryer told The Record Monday that the virus doesn't affect other species or humans, and only affects cats.

"They have spent the last week consulting with veterinarians to confirm," he said. "As a precaution, public programs and access was limited."

According to the City of New Westminster, shelter staff first saw evidence of calicivirus on Nov. 6. When it was confirmed by a veterinarian, staff took steps to contain the outbreak, which included isolating the cat population onsite and redirecting any new cat intakes to other animal shelters in the region.

"This is a very unfortunate situation and we are making every effort to deal with this and prevent further spread of the disease," said Nancy Millar, senior animal services officer for the city. "We continue to consult with our veterinarian as to the best course of action."

Melina Csontos, who has volunteered at the shelter for nearly 10 years, is devastated by the news that the cats she's come to love are sick.

"I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to them," she sobbed. "It is heartbreaking for me."

In addition to worrying about the cats at the New Westminster Animal Control Shelter, Csontos is also concerned about the well-being of her own pets.

Having fostered one of the cats at the shelter, she's worried she may have inadvertently brought the virus into her home.

When she first learned that the virus was present at the shelter, Csontos did some research and found that cats can recover from the virus if given time.

She's since been told that the cats have a different strain of the virus that makes their organs shut down.

Csontos believes the animal control shelter would be in a better position to handle outbreaks like this if it had a new or renovated space.

She said there's little space in its sick room and some of the cages are made of wood, which can't be easily sanitized.

When The Record's photographer visited the shelter Monday afternoon, staff members were distraught about the situation with the animals in their care.

Access to the cats has been limited, with those having contact wearing special attire.

Sources told The Record that the cats have a form of the virus known as virulent systemic feline calicivirus, which has a mortality rate of about 70 per cent and causes intense suffering whether the affected animals survive or die.

Only two or three of the cats at the shelter don't have the virus.

tmcmanus@royalcityrecord.com

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