Why Did This Animal Shelter Almost Euthanize 200 Cats?

The largest animal shelter in Indianapolis recently closed its doors, at least temporarily. Even worse, the shelter also had to euthanize a bunch of otherwise healthy cats, and even contemplated the mass euthanasia of all of its 200 cats until local shelters helped them out. The culprit was a highly contagious feline virus, but what really killed the innocent cats was all the ways the shelter failed them.

100 Cats Exposed to Virus

As reported in Indy Star earlier last month, the Indianapolis Animal Care and Control had to turn away new cats.

The reason? The shelter had a bad case of a potentially fatal and extremely contagious feline virus: feline panleukopenia virus. It’s essentially the cat version of canine parvovirus. When the story first broke, the shelter planned to spend at least the next 72 hours disinfecting the facility, but the decontamination process could take up to two weeks.

Dawn Contos, the spokesperson for Animal Care and Control, confirmed that at least 20 cats had already tested positive for the virus. Shockingly, over 100 felines were reportedly exposed to the virus. The source of the virus was believed to be a number of infected cats that arrived at the shelter. Contos explained that every cat was vaccinated against the virus — which is the main way to prevent the virus — but immunity requires two vaccinations that are two weeks apart.

When the story broke, Contos explained that up to 60 cats would be euthanized. From the shelter’s point of view: “It’s not worth the risk. This is a really super unpleasant way to get sick and to potentially die.”

More on Feline Panleukopenia Virus

Contos was right. The virus isn’t a pleasant way for cats to go. According to Shelter Medicine, the virus is characterized by vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea. It can cause sudden death in cats, too. It’s commonly transmitted by the “fecal-oral route,” and it’s a hard virus to get rid of. It’s a “durable” virus that can linger for months or years when not disinfected properly. Alcohol sanitizer is definitely not enough; bleach and potassium peroxymonosulfate are effective.

Maintaining a sanitary facility is key. Using bleach or potassium peroxymonosulfate every day in the kennels and whatever equipment cats come in contact with can reduce the risk of the virus spreading. If sanitized successfully every day, then the minimum 14-day quarantine might not be necessary in case of an outbreak. Equally important is that the facility operate at capacity because overcrowding can be disastrous.

Understaffed, Underfunded and Unsanitary Shelter

The virus outbreak may be over, but now the Indianapolis Animal Care and Control has to clean its image. A couple weeks after the story broke, the Indy Star followed-up with a piece about how the shelter was understaffed, underfunded and unsanitary.

In the end, the shelter euthanized 25 cats, not 60, or the original 200 cats that the shelter planned to euthanize. A report revealed that the city shelter relies too much on donations and desperately needs to double its staff to 47 full-time employees, instead of relying on volunteers.

The biggest failure of the city shelter is that it was partly to blame for the spread of the virus. The October kennel efficiency report said it as clear as day before the outbreak: “The cleaning solution currently being used at IACC, Vetenall, does not kill parvovirus or panleukopenia virus, two common, deadly, and easily transmissible shelter-borne diseases.” The reason cited is that the effective cleaners are “too expensive.”

Worse still, the report also said that the shelter didn’t have room to quarantine its sick animals. And they’ve known that since a 2003 report. The cages at the shelter are too small, too difficult to clean and they weren’t meant for long-term use.

Shelters: Stop Taking Shortcuts

I’d like to think that the shelter in Indianapolis had the best intentions; caring for animals is an emotionally taxing, physically draining and not very lucrative endeavor. Hopefully other shelters will take heed: not even the largest animal shelter in Indianapolis could afford to take shortcuts. Especially since it looks like the feline panleukopenia virus has no plans of slowing down. In Boone, N.C., 77 cats have already been euthanized because of another virus outbreak. Let’s prevent these tragedies while we can.

Photo Credit: Andrew Everett


Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 years ago

thanks for the article.

Elaina Valzania
elaina Valzania4 years ago

An unfunded shelter cannot even really be called a Shelter if it in fact endangers the animals it is suppose to be helping and protecting. If the shelter is under staffed and does not even have the money to keep the facility disinfected from common diseases that pets and animals are vaccinated against then the shelter needs to be closed down until funding is made available. This shelter is running the risk of allowing people to adopt pets to take home in the community, further having the potential to spread these diseases. Where on earth is the Health and Human services of these communities? The reason for inspections in these type of facilities exist is to make sure a community is safe. I find it appalling that everyone involved has dropped the ball here. If there is not enough funding for this size facility than fund raising should be done for and by the community and the political offices that disperse funding for the community. I find this whole situation very appalling and unethical.

Mandy H.
Mandy H4 years ago

That is disgusting! I know a woman who runs a guinea pig shelter all by her self (she currently has 100 guinea pigs) and her shelter has only had one outbreak which was due to food contamination at the stock feed. The shelter should switch to the F10 Vet grade Disinfectant, I use it to clean my guinea pig cage and hidey houses to prevent the spread of any bacteria or illnesses. On the back it has a list of dilutions according to what you're wanting to kill/prevent. It's non-irritant and non-corrosive, it's even gentle on my sensitive hands.

angelaq l.
Angela L4 years ago

I have plenty of strayed cats in my neighborhood. One smaller size cat had been in my back yard and I didn't know till I put food for the other one that I always saw. It ended up that one day I caught a glimpse of this little skinny yellow cat. It only took a few days and he befriended with me, so now he's staying under my patio and even begs for canned food!!! if I only give him dry food, he even steps in my kitchen to check out and then leaves. How can anyone be so cold blooded to mistreat animals?

Susan T.
Susan T4 years ago

@ Jan N. Definition of euthanasia: good death. I have worked a shelter where animals were chained to walls, standing in their own crap for hours on end because there was no kennel available. Animals kept in crates (carriers) stacked like chickens in hallways for lack of kennel space. For lack of adopter's, funds ect.

Don't preach to me about euthanasia being for expediency. I cried a lot. Some places do the best they can and cannot live up to your high standards.

Please do not generalize like you did in your statement. The way of euthanasia is not the worst thing that could happen to an animal in a shelter.

Susan T.
Susan T4 years ago

As a vet tech who has worked at a couple shelters/humane societies, shelter medicine and disease control/management is very tough to control.

It only takes one careless volunteer or pissed off employee who won't follow protocol and you get disease everywhere.

It is sad to read that shelter medicine is about the same as it was 18 years ago.
ADOPT! Spay & Neuter. TNR. I know sad but realistic.

Patricia W.
Patricia W4 years ago

News like this just about kills my soul.
All those cats killed - I don't even want to wrap my mind around this.

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Community needs to get collective heads out of a$$. Shelter needs help; spay and neuter and punish those who abandon pets.

Jan N.
Jan N4 years ago

Euthanasia sounds so benign. Call it what it is: killing for expediency.

Nimue Pendragon

The mind boggles...