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Davidson County deals with cat virus outbreak at animal shelter

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DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Davidson County’s animal shelter has halted intake of cats due to an outbreak of an airborne feline illness.

County Commissioner Larry Potts said that the county learned of the illness Monday when the United Animal Coalition’s license was revoked.

In the report from the N.C. Department of Agriculture, UAC records revealed 452 animals were found dead in their kennels from January to Aug. 13. Nearly 90 percent of them were cats.

Dr. Karl Milliren with Thomasville Veterinary Hospital said the virus is extremely contagious and deadly.

“Feline panleukopenia is a viral infection that causes vomiting, diarrhea and then respiratory signs,” Dr. Milliren said. “Once the outbreak is there, your best bet is to let that run its course. Treat the ones that you can, the ones that are too sick you have to let them go.”

Dr. Milliren said sanitation is key to avoiding continual contamination and there are vaccinations available for treatment and prevention.

“The shelter here in Davidson County, we helped design that shelter and we designed it so it had ease in cleaning, but I can’t address how it’s been because I’m not involved in that,” Dr. Milliren said.

Interim Shelter Director Donna Grooms was too busy for an interview on the shelter’s plan to decontaminate the cat area or to provide an exact number of how many animals total are being cared for at the shelter.

The Davidson County Assistant County Manager said they are waiting on a report for the number of cats sick currently at the shelter.

Head Volunteer Kathy Clemmons said she was shocked at the news of cruelty allegations. Clemmons said as a volunteer they are restricted to working in specific areas but has never noticed anything out of the ordinary.

“We have Donna Grooms at the helm right now. The most compassionate, caring director that we could possibly have. She's doing everything possible working long hours; the volunteers have jumped in to help her and her staff. So I would say come down to the shelter, donate, volunteer, adopt whatever you can do to save an animal’s life,” Clemmons said.

There are currently four staff members running the shelter. On average 7,700 animals are taken to the Davidson County Animal Shelter each year.

Captain Robby Rummage with the Lexington Police Department said officers, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the state Department of Agriculture are focusing on the investigation and they are leaving the operation of the shelter to county leaders.

“We've got the utmost confidence in Davidson County leaders in establishing the shelter to be run by guidelines that the state says it should,” Rummage said. “We're conducting interviews, we're gathering evidence so that we can bring all those facts to the forefront to the district attorney.”