Currituck Animal Shelter euthanizes 52 cats and kittens; advocates cry foul

The Currituck Animal Shelter staff euthanized a total of 52 cats and kittens on July 8, saying each cat was suffering from severe symptoms of a highly contagious virus.

Currituck officials put out a statement about the incident Thursday after the county’s SPCA posted a scathing narrative on Facebook about the mass euthanization, saying protocol wasn’t followed.

“Due to a great deal of misinformation circulating on social media, including personal attacks on county employees, Currituck County is providing correct information regarding this situation,” the statement read.

An outline on how this situation unfolded, according to the county:

  • In late June, the Animal Shelter sent cats to the Lucky Kitten Cat Rescue in Virginia Beach and the Virginia Beach SPCA for assistance in getting the animals adopted.
  • The Lucky Kitten Cat Rescue contacted Currituck County with information that one of these cats was diagnosed and displaying symptoms of Calicivirus.
  • The Virginia Beach SPCA rejected intake on 4 of the 9 cats sent from Currituck because they displayed symptoms of Calicivirus. Because of that rejection, Currituck staff had to pick up the cats from VBSPCA and bring them back to the Currituck County Animal Shelter.
  • The returned cats, along with others from the larger group that originally came to the shelter with them, were separated from the general cat population as a precaution. This group of cats remained in isolation for medical observation.
  • Cats in this group began to show visible symptoms of Calicivirus.
  • County staff consulted with Roanoke Island Animal Clinic and provided photos of the cats’ symptoms. Dr. Mary Burkart advised county staff in this situation. Dr. Burkart has provided a written letter supporting the decision to euthanize.
  • County staff contacted state inspectors at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal shelters and boarding facilities. Reporting cases of Calicivirus is required by the state office. The state inspectors received guidance from the State Veterinarian’s Office and agreed that euthanizing was the best option.
  • Each cat was sedated to ease their suffering and then individually euthanized by county staff. The euthanized cats were then sent to the county’s crematorium, operated by shelter staff.

But local animal advocates say the situation isn’t as the shelter described.

According to the Currituck County SPCA, which is not affiliated with the shelter, Lucky Kitten Cat Rescue from Virginia Beach picked up five kittens from the Currituck shelter the week of July 7, but soon found two were ill with symptoms of Calicivirus.

“However they did not have a confirmed diagnosis. The cat rescue did call the shelter back within a short period of time to let them know that the two kittens thought to have the virus were doing fine,” the SPCA said in the Facebook post. “During that call they were told that a whole room of cats had been euthanized, approximately 30 is what we know. The whole intake room. That shocked and upset them because they had given them information that they felt had prompted the euthanization.”

The SPCA accused shelter staff of lying about having a veterinarian diagnosis.

“We know that the Vet of Record for the shelter (Moyock Animal Hospital) was not contacted for a consult or diagnosis.” The SPCA claims the shelter said the diagnosis came from the Virginia Beach cat rescue.

“We know that the cat rescue did not have a diagnosis because we also spoke to them. The two kittens that they thought had the virus turned out to be fine, healthy kittens,” the SPCA wrote.

“We do not know why the shelter made a determination to euthanize all of the cats in the intake room and we do not know why they didn’t consult the Vet of Record. The Vet of Record is paid by the county to oversee the medical needs of the shelter including drugs administered,” the SPCA wrote. “The decision the shelter made to euthanize a whole room full of cats was made by people who do not have a license to practice veterinary medicine yet they took it upon themselves to diagnose and euthanize a large number of cats. Many of them nursing mothers and kittens.”

Currituck County officials say euthanizing was determined necessary to protect the entire cat population in the shelter.

“Calicivirus is very contagious and could have potentially spread through the shelter rapidly. The staff followed correct protocols by isolating the group of cats, contacting a veterinarian, and contacting the state inspector’s office prior to euthanizing the animals,” the statement said.

“Euthanizing animals is a last resort at the Currituck County Animal Shelter and is only done for medical or violent behavioral reasons. The emotional toll on staff is very significant,” the statement continues. “Currituck County takes great pride in operating a clean, caring, and professional animal shelter. Staff and volunteers spend many hours taking care of pets and preparing them for adoption. Over the past three years, the Animal Shelter has taken in 2,585 animals. Of these, 460 have been euthanized.”

The shelter says it encourages county residents to spay/neuter pets. The stray and feral cat population in Currituck County is very large and the Animal Shelter frequently has a high number of cats in the facility. Residents can help prevent situations like this in the future through a proactive spay/neuter approach.

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