In an overabundance of caution, the Animal Rescue League of Berks County will not be adopting cats or kittens from the shelter for the next two weeks following a 9-month-old kitten’s diagnosis of feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, which is a contagious and sometimes deadly disease. This cat was brought into the shelter as a stray on December 4 as part of animal control in Longswamp Township.

It’s important to note that cats at the ARL receive distemper vaccines as part of the shelter’s core vaccination schedule. Adult cats and older kittens who come into the ARL receive an initial vaccine upon intake, and kittens receive an initial vaccine as early as 4-6 weeks of age; however, the vaccine does not provide full protection until the cat has received all of its boosters based upon the recommended schedule, and the vaccine will not reverse the illness in a cat who has already been exposed to the disease upon intake. Fortunately, the disease is not airborne, nor is it contagious to dogs or humans. Transmission of the disease occurs through saliva, urine, blood, nasal secretions and feces, which typically makes transmission from cat-to-cat unlikely in a shelter environment where many cats are vaccinated and most cats live isolated in a kennel individually.

While the shelter will not be adopting kittens or cats at the Animal Rescue League until January 2, 2019, the public is still welcome to meet and adopt dogs, as well as barn cats who are not housed in the shelter. Further, the ARL will ramp up off-site adoption events with foster kittens and cats at its off-site adoption center at the PetSmart store in Temple. The cats and kittens available for adoption events will be fostered pets only—meaning, they have been living in people’s homes or at the PetSmart store. Please watch the ARL’s Facebook page for kitten and cat adoption events at that store and others. Additionally, the ARL will continue with its Santa Paws Christmas delivery event with kitten and cat adoptions taking place at the PetSmart in Temple on Saturday, December 21 and Sunday, December 22 from 12-5. All dog adoptions will continue at the shelter as originally planned.

To prevent further exposure, the ARL will be only accepting owner-surrendered cats from owners who are in dire straits and have exhausted all other alternatives until January 2, 2019. Additionally, Tom Hubric, executive director, is asking that the public try to minimize stray cat drop offs for the next two weeks. “With temperatures forecasted to be fairly mild for late December, our organization feels comfortable advising the public to be mindful of healthy-appearing stray cats. If you’ve seen a healthy-looking cat outside regularly, there’s a good chance the cat will continue to live comfortably outdoors for the next two weeks, and likely has a home that he/she returns to during the day or evening.” Hubric emphasized that ill or injured cats should continue to be brought to the shelter, and the organization will quarantine them to a separate area of the building until January 2.

Distemper in felines typically presents with lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Although local area veterinarians have not seen distemper from recently adopted cats, and the ARL has not received any concerned calls from recent adopters, the ARL welcomes calls from any concerned cat or kitten adopter at 610-373-8830 who may have adopted a cat or kitten after December 4.

“Although this decision was very difficult to make since there is an extremely low chance that any of our other cats will become ill, we recognize the severity of feline distemper and we always want to do our best to ensure that our adopters are bringing home healthy pets,” says Tom Hubric, executive director. “This is the most responsible decision to make for both our cats and the public.”

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County is the only open admission shelter in Berks County accepting more than 5,000 animals annually. The shelter runs at maximum capacity throughout the year, providing adoption programs, spay/neuter clinics, community outreach, education, animal welfare investigation, and more. The ARL’s mission is to impact all aspects of humane treatment of animals through quality service, accommodation and education of pet owners and the community.