Category: “Shelter News”

Bad things come in three’s

Bad things come in three’s

They say that bad things come in three’s. If that’s true then the good news is we’re done!  Have to say, it has been a rough, not to mention expensive past few weeks.  If you follow us on Facebook then you already know what I’m referring to.

It started with three dogs who came down with kennel cough.  Except for the fact that it’s highly contagious to other dogs, it’s mostly just a nuisance.  Certainly not life threatening unless you already have a sick or immune compromised dog. But trying to contain it so it doesn’t spread through a kennel is difficult and time consuming – changing smocks between rooms, wearing gloves, tons of disinfectant and using separate exercise areas. Employees who handle those dogs can’t go in our other dog rooms and instead clean the cats; it’s a lot of juggling, but we made it work. Thanks to our diligent staff and volunteers no one else came down with the cough and all three dogs recovered and have been adopted.

When we were at the end of the coughing dogs’ quarantine – we got in a sick large breed puppy.  He was just abandoned in a crate at our door without a note or any information, (what were the owners thinking!). We didn’t know he was sick (we assumed he was just shy and overwhelmed in a new place) so he was in our stray room. When we realized he really wasn’t feeling well we immediately tested for Parvo and, sadly, he was positive. Had we known he was sick we would have isolated him and immediately begun treatments. Now we had to disinfect our whole stray area! Fortunately he hadn’t been taken out to any of our dog fields or other rooms of the shelter.  Sully, as we named him (because he crashed and survived!) wasn’t terribly young or frail and responded well to treatment – gallons of fluids, anti-nausea mediation and antibiotics.

A couple days into his treatment there was another box at our door (is this a thing again? Suddenly we’re back to having animals abandoned here!) This time with two very sick, very young Rottie type puppies. Immediately suspecting the worse, staff set them up in ISO and started treatment. Parvo is one of the few words that will strike fear into any shelter workers’ heart. Many puppies don’t survive and many of the bigger, more crowded shelters can’t risk the spread of the disease and euthanize immediately. We are fortunate to have a separate isolation area to quarantine these animals so we do try to save them. But sadly, these two puppies were already too sick and first one, then the other, succumbed in spite of our best efforts.  Heartbreaking.

Then, believe it or not, we got in three injured animals in the same week! A young pup with a broken leg, a teenaged cat and then separately a kitten, both with broken pelvises. What are the chances of that? The estimate for surgical repair was $5,000 – a price way over our head especially if you multiply it by three animals. We shopped around, begged and pleaded for help and through the generosity of VCA (Veterinary Corporation of America) found a local vet hospital and surgeon willing to take on our cases at a much reduced rate.

Upon further examination and diagnostics, it was determined that the puppy’s leg was not a complete fracture and could heal if just splinted and given cage rest. The older kitten, Ramblin’ Rose had surgery and a plate put into her hip and she is doing well. The kitten was discovered to have much more extensive injuries and a poor prognosis and, sadly, was euthanized. Again our hearts were broken. Sometimes we just have to focus on those we can help and give them all we can!

We have no budget for these kind of medical cases and rely on the Animal Shelter League for financial support. Donations are gratefully accepted online at animalshelterleaguerp.org, or cash and checks can be brought or mailed to the shelter (301 J. Rogers Lane, RP 94928). Help us be ready for the next Sully and Rose that comes limping, or coughing (or worse) through our doors!

One-month countdown

One-month countdown

Only one month left before our fees go up – including animal licenses! Licenses for altered dogs and cats will go from $12 to $18 and if your pet isn’t fixed yet, (what are you waiting for?) it will go from $30 to $36. If your license is due soon I suggest you renew it now and get one more year at the lower fee. If you’ve never licensed your pet before, now is a very good time to do so since the late fee is also increasing from $15 to $25, which is a bigger slap on the hand, and will hopefully motivate more people to license their pets, (if being legally required wasn’t enough motivation for you).

Why should you license, you ask? Besides feeding government pockets what’s the point of a license? Well there are several reasons to license your animals besides being required by law (although being a law abiding citizen is a good thing in and of itself – and sets you up as a role model to your children and neighbors).

It’s been shown that people are more apt to help a lone dog or cat if it’s wearing a collar and tag showing clearly that s/he is a lost pet vs. a feral animal. A collar and tag shows the world that this is a loved family member and a license is traceable and can help reunite a lost pet with his worried parents. A microchip is a good back-up for that just in case the tag falls off – or is removed – but a visible tag is the first layer of protection that all pets should have.

A current license also indicates that the animal is up-to-date on his rabies vaccine. That’s actually how licensing got started – as visible proof of rabies protection. Through a diligent program of vaccination we are able to control the spread of rabies in our pet population. It is still out there though in wildlife such as bats, raccoons and foxes so we can’t become complacent. Rabies is zoonotic, which means humans can get it and there still is no known cure once infection has taken hold. If you are bit by an unvaccinated animal, or one with an unknown vaccine history, you might have to go through a series of anti-rabies shots – which is no fun at all! If all animals had on their license tags you could tell at a glance that the dog or cat that bit you at least had a rabies vaccine once (can’t tell without looking up the license number if the vaccine is still current). That is helpful information if you weren’t able to catch the animal to quarantine.

License fees are also used to pay for animal services in the community. The City run’s a (very nice, I might say) animal shelter so that the lost pets in Rohnert Park and Cotati have someplace safe to go while waiting to be reclaimed. Running animal services costs a lot and license fees offset some of that expense. It would be nice, and more fair, if all pet owners paid their share instead of the burden falling on those who comply willingly (or have been caught and made to comply). It is estimated that there are approximately 22,500 dogs and cats living in Rohnert Park. If everyone licensed their pets it would cover the costs of all the services, we provide!

So here’s your chance to step up and make your pet legal while the fees are still at their lower amount. The higher rates will take effect on July 1 so take advantage of this last month and get your dogs and cats caught up on their rabies shots and come in for a license (no late fee if you do this voluntarily!).

Think Inside the Box!

Think Inside the Box!

Is your cat having accidents around the house?  Not using the litterbox consistently?  Before you turn him into an outdoor cat (which doesn’t really solve the problem – just takes it out of the house) please give us a call.  As mentioned in another article, myself and another employee (Ash) are taking a 10-week course on solving cat behavior problems; and litterbox issues are a huge part of what we are learning.

As I learn more about all the things that can trigger a cat to stop using a litterbox, I am amazed to think that any cat does use it with any regularity!  It seems that cats are sensitive creatures and marking (with urine) is one of their coping mechanisms.  That along with a strong need to claim territory and make it “theirs” can lead to spraying problems.  Which is different, believe it or not, than inappropriate peeing!  Telling the difference can be tricky which is why we are taught to ask a lot of questions.  When do the accidents happen?  Where?  How long has it been happening?  Is the pee a puddle or a line?  Is it on vertical surfaces or horizontal?  Are there other animals in the home?  Any changes with the family – work schedules, people coming or gone, etc.?  Any one of these things could be the cause.

Of course, the big question is – when was the cat last at the veterinarian?  It’s important to first rule out any possible health issue.  A cat can’t help having accidents if she has a bladder infection!  And putting her outside is certainly not going to help that situation.  For male cats, little dribbles of urine could indicate a life-threatening blockage so it’s important to pay attention to those kinds of details.  Only after all possible medical issues have been ruled out do you focus on behavioral and environmental elements.

Cats can be finicky about their bathroom.  They are very clean animals and may refuse to use a dirty litterbox.  Even if you’ve just scooped it – if it hasn’t been washed out in weeks, it still smells dirty to them!  Putting a cover on it might help contain the smell from the rest of the house but that just makes it all the ickier to a cat whose sense of smell is thousands of times better than ours!  Some cats won’t pee and poop in the same box and some cats won’t share a box with another cat, especially if it’s just been used.  You never want that to be the reason for a mistake, so the rule is one box per cat – plus one!  And they need to be in various locations just in case part of the issue is that one cat is guarding the boxes.

There can be so many other issues with the box itself – how deep it is, the type of litter used, where the box is located, covered or uncovered, and so on that it’s really best to talk to someone with some base knowledge (won’t say we’re experts yet) to help you sort it out.  Making frequent random changes alone (for those of you who say you’ve already tried “everything”) can be a stressor and part of the problem!

If you’re dealing with a litterbox issue, please give us a call (584-1582, open Wed 1-6:30; Thur-Fri-Sat 1-5:30; Sun 1-4:30).  Ash and I would love to chat with you about what could be causing the problem and help brainstorm ways to solve it – without the cat being put outside or surrendered to the shelter.  Here’s where thinking inside the box is the right way!

Play with Your Cats!

Play with Your Cats!

Do you play with your cat?  I don’t mean the occasional toss of a paper wad or wiggling the fingers under the blanket.  Do you have regularly scheduled play sessions that gives your indoor cat an appropriate outlet for her energy and helps her meet her instincts to catch prey?  New studies are showing that this could be one of the major causes of most behavior issues we have with our pet cats.  I am taking a 10-week course on cat behavior, specifically designed to give the students the tools and information necessary to help people solve their cat behavior problems – everything from litter box issues, cat-to-cat aggression and other destructive or frustrating behaviors.  Start calling if you are having problems – the instructors would love us to work on real cases!  The first thing I’ve learned is about the importance of play.

If you think about our cats’ ancestors, and I’m only going back a couple of generations, not hundreds of years, they lived mostly outdoors (which wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it is today, but still shortened many cats’ lives) and spent a great deal of time stalking and hunting prey.  It is thought that a typical cat would need to catch 20 critters (bugs, birds and rodents) each day to meet their caloric needs.  The cat’s day would look like this:  hunt, eat, groom, nap – repeat.  Our spoiled indoor cats have it easy – full bowls of kibble whenever they are hungry and no threat of becoming the prey, getting hit by cars, or getting injured defending their territory.  But in contrast, without some creativity on the part of their parents, their lives are pretty dull.

Cats love routine and feel most secure in their familiar territory, but they do need some way to release their energy, especially young animals.  And this is where structured playtime with you comes in.  We need to meet their need to stalk and catch prey to both physically and mentally keep our pets stimulated and happy.  I’m not at all advocating releasing mice or crickets in your home!  There are many toys to choose from that will do the trick – if you take the time to use them properly.  Find toys that you can control (we’re talking interactive play here – you need to be involved!) like a fishing pole with a feather attached or a squeaky mouse.  You want to move the object in a way that will catch your cat’s attention and you will immediately notice when it does.  Every part of your docile pet kitty becomes a fierce hunter – the pupils dilate, the ears are forward and focused, the tail goes back and may swish back and forth, the cat lowers his body and slinks forward – and then he pounces!  Ta da!  A successful hunt – or not – depending on whose reflexes were quicker!

The recommendation is two play sessions daily for 10-15 minutes followed by feeding your cat a small meal (he would eat after a successful hunt, of course), then he should groom himself and settle in for a nap.  All tension released and no need to pick on his feline companions, you, or anything else.  It sounds simple but the argument makes sense.  Most behavior issues are because we have bored, under-stimulated, or stressed cats (particularly in multi-cat households).  So it makes sense that anything we can do to provide more stimulation would be beneficial.

Stay tuned, as the course progresses I will be providing more tidbits and suggestions.  Remember to email or call if you are having behavior issues with your cat.  This course will only be worthwhile if the knowledge can be used to help our community’s cats and cat parents!

Changes Coming in 2016

Changes Coming in 2016

Tired yet of all the predictions for 2016? I’m not good at guessing things but I do know some of what is coming up in the new year, since I’m the one who put the requests into the budget.   Based on what was approved we will be seeing some positive changes happening around here – and we are all excited!

Some money was approved to change the kitten room from cold stainless steel individual cages to 4 small friendly colony rooms. With the support of the Animal Shelter League and FAIRE (Friends of the animals in the Redwood Empire) who have been fundraising all last year to raise the additional funds needed for this change, we are almost there! Some room naming opportunities are still available so call me if interested, and donations are still appreciated (go to animalshelterleaguerp.org to donate online). A contractor has just been signed for the work and it’s all just hinging (literally) on a door handle from the manufacturer of the product to be installed.

Along with this change we will be making improvements to our indoor dog visiting room. This room will be getting new walls and a mural, ceiling fans for air circulation, and the floor repainted. This area was enclosed and made into an indoor room during our last renovation 11 years ago, but was never completely finished. It will be much cheerier for the public coming in and make a much better backdrop for the photographs used to promote our shelter residents for adoption.

Another exciting change for the staff here is some improvements to our kennel kitchen. Try preparing meals for 100+ hungry mouths in a small crowded space! More storage will help keep the food bowls and water bottles organized and clear the counters so we have some elbowroom to work in. Trying to keep this facility up and running and improving the workflow is always on the to-do list.

Two of our staff will be going through a Cat Retention Course and learning ways to help our community solve their cat behavior problems with the goal of keeping cats out of the shelter. If we can solve the issues, maybe the cats wouldn’t have to lose their homes (and you would be happier with your pet)! This is a 10-week course so it won’t be up and running until Spring; stay tuned and watch our Facebook page for updates. We’re super excited about this program though and hope you are too.

We’re also renaming and revamping our “No More Lost Pets” campaign. It’s now the “Get Them Back Home” campaign and it’s to promote reuniting lost animals with their families. Why do strays sit unclaimed in shelters? Pets wander away and without a way to let people now where they live, what’s an animal to do? Putting on a tag and giving him a currently registered microchip is a way to give your pet a voice. It’s like magic only simpler! And they are both FREE at our shelter for residents of RP and Cotati. Along with this we post all strays on our Facebook page (like us and become part of our animal saving team!) to make sure worried parents have a way to know their pet is in our care. Our goal? All strays going home within 24 hours – and why not?!

We will finally be rolling out the P.A.W. this spring and, again, we are super excited to be able to bring this to our community. The P.A.W. , Pet Adoption Wagon, is a van outfitted to bring adoption animals out into the community for adoption events. We are looking at creative ways to increase adoptions and this a very easy way to expand our reach new areas that might not think to come to the shelter for a pet. We will need more event volunteers so think about that and drop a note to our volunteer coordinator (volunteerwithanimals@rpcity.org) if you think that might be something that you would like to help with. New programs mean more help is needed!

We’re looking forward to the challenges of 2016. Improving the shelter and expanding our life-saving programs is definitely at the top of our New Year’s resolutions. With your help and support we will continue rise to the challenges we face. Thank you for trusting us with the care of your animals.

Spay & Neuter Works!

Spay & Neuter Works!

Animal Shelter workers normally dread September.  It is typically the high point of our animal population, with kittens filling every cage and foster home and back to school activities decreasing the number of adoptions.  One fall day a few years ago someone asked me how many kittens we had and I took the time to do an actual head count.  In our shelter that day were 96 kittens and another 54 were out in foster homes!  By September the initial rush of excitement at seeing cute, young kittens is over and all those people who waited through the winter to adopt a kitten have already made their selection.

The saddest part was watching the tiny babies that came in during the summer continue to grow up in the shelter.  Predictably the smallest kitten (no matter the temperament) would be the first to be adopted out of the adoption room.  So as new, young kittens continue to come in, the biggest kittens were by-passed and just got bigger.  Also predictable was the fact that any kitten of color would be adopted before a black one.  By October our adoption room would be filled with teenage black cats – just in time for a Halloween special!

This year we witnessed a miracle!  A truly unique phenomenon for a municipal, open-admission shelter.  A couple of weeks ago we adopted out the last pair of kittens in our adoption room.  Let me say that again, our shelter ran out of adoption kittens.  We’re so proud and happy about that we were doing our happy dance down the hallway!  Not that I’m saying we were totally out of the little fur-balls – there were still some young ones and some shy ones in foster care.  But that Saturday night our adoption kitten room was completely empty.  And it was only the middle of September!

I know shelters all around us are still full of kittens.  As soon as I posted our good news on our Facebook page, the requests for help started coming in.  Sad stories of shelters buried in the influx of young kittens.  Stories that we all know only too well. Sadly too the fire started in Lake County and all media and shelter attention was diverted to helping those victims.  We are glad to be able to offer assistance to other shelters whenever we can and have brought in several litters of kittens from other places.

What do we attribute this miracle to?  An aggressive spay/neuter program.  We are the only shelter in the area that offers our citizens free cat surgeries, and have been doing that since 2008.  So actually the more surprising thing is that we’ve gotten in any unwanted litters at all!  Seven years of paying for everyone to have their cats fixed is making a difference!  We are continuing this program so here’s another plug for it.  If you know anyone living in Rohnert Park or the City limits of Cotati that has an intact cat please let them know that we offer this program!  They just need to call 588-3531 to make an appointment.

We love being able to offer our help to other crowded shelters – not to mention bragging about our success!  Maybe next year we can empty our shelter by August.  We’re making that our new goal.  With your help and support, we can do it!

Kidz ‘n Critter Summer Camp lots of fun for kids

Kidz ‘n Critter Summer Camp lots of fun for kids

Looking for activities to keep your child engaged, learning and having fun this summer?  We have a suggestion – enroll him or her in our Kidz ‘n Critter Summer Camp.

This year we are holding six one-week sessions of camp for students going into grades 2-7. Each week is for a different age group, so the programming is age appropriate, and the kids can make new like-minded friends.  Camps run from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and are held in the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter’s lobby.

Through guest speakers, arts and crafts, videos, fieldtrips and demonstrations, the campers will learn about different animals and responsible pet care.

Bringing in passionate and expert guest speakers make topics such as basic vet care, dog training and living with wildlife exciting and personal.

Campers will also learn about the need to spay and neuter, the importance of ID tags and microchips, cat care, living with a house bunny and more.  It’s no surprise the highlight of the camp for every camper asked is the time spent with the shelter animals – socializing kittens and cats and playing with dogs and other small animals.  Field trips change from year to year and have included exciting places like Safari West, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, Bergin University of Canine Studies, Animal Care Center (Emergency and Specialty Hospital) and Full House Farm.

Sessions for second- and third-graders are July 6-10 and July 27-31; sessions for fourth- and fifth-graders are June 15-19 and July 20-24; and sessions for sixth- and seventh-graders are July 13-17 and Aug. 3-7 (grades are for next school year).

To accommodate as many campers as possible, we limit each child to just one session and to their appropriate age group.  Cost is just $125 per camper with a $25 discount for each sibling.  Scholarships are available, so please don’t hesitate to give your child this opportunity to develop their love of animals even if you are on a strict budget.

Registration includes cost of the field trip, all craft materials and a camp T-shirt.

Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis and application forms are available at www.rpanimalshelter.org or at the shelter, which is located at 301 J. Rogers Lane, behind the Press Democrat Building off Redwood Drive.  Shelter hours are: Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-5:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.

The Animal Shelter League (ASL) funds the camps and checks should be made out to them.  Credit card payments can be accepted through the ASL website – www.animalshelterleaguerp.org. Be sure to make a note in the special instruction box that it is for camp and list the child’s name so it will be credited properly. We’re busy planning a full schedule of activities for our camp sessions and hope your child will join us.  Tell your friends so as many students as possible get a chance to participate in the fun.

We certainly want to encourage every child’s love of animals and help them learn to be responsible pet parents – that’s what these camps are all about.

Plenty of reasons exist for the high number of strays

Plenty of reasons exist for the high number of strays

By Mickey Zeldes  March 12, 2015

We post all the stray animals that come through our door on our Facebook page. It has really helped increase the number of animals returned to owners, as people recognize them as either their own missing pet or belonging to a friend or neighbor. Dakota was sure pleased her neighbor “liked” our Facebook page – the neighbor recognized the lost Labrador and knocked on Dakota’s dad’s door immediately, telling him his missing dog was waiting for him at the shelter. Social media, like Facebook, has allowed the community to help lost animals (and those awaiting adoption) by getting the information out to a wide targeted audience. If you haven’t liked our Facebook page yet, please do, and join our team to help save more animals.

The past couple weeks have been unusual in the high number of lost and abandoned animals that have come through our door. One of the comments made on our last stray alert posting was “What’s up with all the stray cats lately?” There are several reasons for the upswing, not the least of which is this is the time of year when all the females come into heat. They are roaming further to find a mate, and males are everywhere vying for the females.

Overall, we get in many more strays than owner-surrendered (unwanted) animals. Actually, if you think about it, that’s mostly what a shelter is for – a safe place for a lost pet to wait until reclaimed by his or her family. Any pet can become lost: an indoor cat sneaks outside when a door is accidentally left ajar; a fence blows down during a storm; the gardener, PG&E meter reader, contractor, (fill in the blank) left the gate open; burglars broke a window so the cat escaped; or the pet sitter wasn’t vigilant with a known escape artist. The excuses, I mean “reasons,” go on and on, but the point is that a pet can escape from anyone, at any time.

The bigger question, I think, is why are all these strays still at the shelter? Why aren’t all of them reunited with their families? What a shelter should be is a temporary (emphasis on that word) holding facility just until the guardian gets off work or gets back in town to claim their pet. Every pet should be required to have a registered microchip – of course, they are already required to have a registered license and we all know how well that system works – so they have a way to be identified and the guardians contacted. Imagine that – a lost pet comes in, is scanned and a microchip found, the owner is contacted and they come in to claim their pet. It’s that easy.

Case in point: Fifi was found running around a local elementary school and was brought to the shelter by a Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety officer. The scared little Chihuahua was not wearing a collar and had no visible form of identification on her. Using a handheld scanner we quickly picked up a microchip implanted under her skin, and through the website where the chip was registered were able to activate an alert (the alert sends out a text, email and voice message that the animal is at the shelter and repeats for four days). Within a half hour the owner was there to claim her errant dog. Hardly needed to set up a cage for that one!

The Animal Shelter League has been providing our community with free microchips for several years, so you would think every stray animal in Rohnert Park and Cotati would have that kind of happy ending. If your pet became lost, would he have a happy ending? Bring your cats and dogs by the shelter during our open hours (Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 1-5:30 p.m. and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.). No appointment necessary for a free microchip. Then “like” our Facebook page and help us return every lost pet back home.

Animal neglect rare locally, but sadly still it happens

Animal neglect rare locally, but sadly still it happens
By Mickey Zeldes  March 6, 2015 12:00 am
Fortunately, we don’t see much serious animal neglect in Rohnert Park. Nothing like what they see in some of the other parts of the country or even in more rural parts of California. We are lucky in that. When we do see an animal in need of attention it’s usually just a poodle type of dog or a longhaired cat with matted fur. Granted that is a very uncomfortable condition and can cause skin issues but it’s not life threatening.When an animal like that comes into the shelter as a stray, we can help directly by cleaning her up and giving her the grooming needed or if reclaimed by an owner we can require them to remedy the situation. If someone calls in concerned about an animal in their neighborhood, we can have an officer go out and do a welfare check to see if the complaint is warranted. If so, we can, again, require the owner to take care of the animal. The tricky ones are when an animal comes in with their owner for some other reason, perhaps for a free microchip or to buy a license and we notice signs of neglect.

We certainly don’t want to discourage people from coming to the shelter or from taking advantage of our services when we are out in the community by being heavy handed. Usually, we hope that it’s just from a lack of knowledge or awareness and try the gentle education approach first. Some people don’t really know about the health concerns that come with a heavy flea infestation or with severe dental disease. They think it’s just a cosmetic nuisance and keep putting off dealing with it. Usually, just having the discussion with people about what the problem is and how important it is to deal with it sooner rather than later is enough to resolve the situation.

This topic came to mind as we had two such situations just this week – a Persian cat came in for a microchip (yay!) and had mats all over the belly (not visible to the eye – and the fur on the top of the cat was OK so you wouldn’t know about the problem unless you reached under her belly for some reason) and the poor dear was crawling with fleas. When the owner was shown the condition of the fur on the cat’s underside she was shocked and embarrassed and agreed to have it taken care of. The second animal was a miniature poodle that came in stray. He also had lots of mats. It’s amazing how many owners don’t groom their pets during the winter thinking they need their coat for warmth during the cool weather and then strip them in the spring. Grooming has to be done regularly for the animal’s comfort and health. Letting them get completely matted to the point that their legs are hobbled together and then stripping them down completely should not be the norm. Take a moment to run your hands over your pet – I mean really go through the fur everywhere, under the arms, in the groin area, under the ears (if they are the droopy kind) and see if you feel any mats or see any fleas. Now would be a great time to take care of them!

Feline Herpes Shouldn’t Stop Adoption!

Feline Herpes Shouldn’t Stop Adoption!

By Mickey Zeldes  January 23, 2015

Vincent and Vanille are two very sweet, although a tad shy, teenagers that have spent most of their lives growing up in our shelter. They were rescued as tiny kittens from a field and sent into a foster home to be tamed down. That was last May. Because of recurring upper respiratory colds, they have been in and out of our sick bay. They probably have herpes (hard to definitively diagnose), which is very manageable with good care and would most likely improve quickly once they were out of the stressful shelter environment. But it’s amazing how many people balk when they hear the word herpes.

Herpes is a virus. People get herpes as well as other animals (feline herpes is not contagious to humans). Being a virus, there’s not really a medicine to cure it. Vaccines, however, can prevent it. Most healthy animals fight off viruses, but if someone is immune compromised or young, and has an immature immune system (like most orphaned kittens) or is under a great deal of stress (like being in a shelter – hello!) their body may not be as able to fight it off. The symptoms often show up primarily in the eyes – they get squinty, red and runny, and they sometimes have other cold symptoms; like sneezing, lethargy, congestion and lack of appetite.

Very young kittens that have a severe case of herpes can have their eyes permanently affected, but for most adult cats it’s just uncomfortable. Viruses are contagious (to other similar animals – feline herpes is contagious to other cats) but only when there is a full-blown outbreak. It can go into remission until the animal is sick with something else and the immune system is down again or until another stress comes into their lives (moving homes, for example).

From personal experience I can tell you that living with a herpes cat is really not a big deal (granted this is a study of just one subject). I have two dogs, four adult cats and foster dozens of kittens through my house each year, so my home is anything but tranquil. One of my cats has herpes and periodically will get symptoms of the runny eyes. None of my other cats or kittens have shown evidence of infection, so it seems that general standards of cleanliness is enough to contain the spread.

Although there is no “cure” for herpes, the most helpful thing I’ve found is giving her a daily dose of Lysine, an amino acid that promotes the immune system. Most pet stores sell it (herpes is very common), and it comes both as a powder you can sprinkle on the food or a tasty gel you can have them just lick up. My cat prefers the gel, and we just squirt it in her mouth from a syringe as a treat. It keeps her outbreaks to a minimum and shortens the duration.

Because cats with herpes are considered immune compromised and sensitive to stress, it is recommended they live indoors. Other than that and making sure they have high quality food and lots of love, they are no different than any other pet cat. We know that Vincent and Vanille would thrive once out of the shelter and even come more out of their shell once in a home of their own. They are hoping to be adopted together as they’ve never been apart since the day we found them in the field. Surely, someone out there is willing to open their hearts to this sweet pair of kittens? Is that you?