Epidemic Of Cat-Births Leads To Concerns About Disease

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Forget about Payson going to the dogs -- it's the cats people should be worried about, say the experts.

Lisa Harmon, who operates a shelter for feral cats in Mesa del Caballo, said she has taken in a large number of cats lately that have feline immuno deficiency virus, which is similar to the human form of the virus, HIV.

The feline type of the disease, FIV, is not communicable to humans, veterinarians say.

Harmon has 57 cats at Harmon's Feral No-Kill, an operation funded by the family's small businesses. Lately, much of the funding has gone to spaying and neutering the cats in order to prevent the spread of disease.

FIV is spread to other cats and dogs, especially those who are fighting or mating, Harmon said.

Dr. Carl Berg of the Star Valley Veterinarian Clinic said his office has not experienced any increase in FIV, one of three main common causes of death in cats.

Other diseases, FELV, or feline leukemia, and FIP, feline infectious peritonitis, have similar symptoms.

"All three are associated with a high mortality rate," Berg said.

He said the three diseases are always in the general population of cats.

"It may be different for (Harmon)," Berg said. "If she's taking in feral cats, she may have one animal that tests positive that is passing it on to the others.

"We see a certain amount each year and don't always get to do a sample testing. We see perhaps five to 10 per year."

Harmon said, "It's the free-running animals people have to pay attention to."

The disease acts in animals much as it does in humans. Many starve to death because they can't eat. Others come down with other diseases because the disease destroys the immune system.

Harmon is taking the cats she gets to a veterinarian in Phoenix to be neutered or spayed. The cost is less in the Valley and the veterinarian is not as busy as those in the Payson area, she said.

"I heard there were 20,000 cats who were put to sleep in the Valley," Harmon said. "It's a terrible overpopulation problem. It would really be nice not to put animals to sleep on a daily basis."

But the Harmons can't take in any more cats than they now have. They are at more than their full capacity, she said. "Unless we can adopt some out, we can't take any more. We're full -- we're absolutely full."

Shelter 'inundated'
Ann VanGheem, manager at the Payson Humane Society, said the shelter is "inundated" with cats right now. The shelter had 50 kittens and 15 adult cats as of Thursday afternoon.

"Adoptions on kittens are not as high as we would expect them to be," she said. "We have a terrible overrun of kitties right now."

VanGheem said she has not received any information that the cats that have been adopted out from the humane society have tested positive for FIV.

She said she encourages people who adopt animals from the shelter to get them tested and to get them immunized for diseases and rabies shots.

"We don't have a licensed vet," VanGheem said, "so the only shots we can give are for parvo, distemper and upper respiratory diseases."

The shelter saw a total of 60 animals adopted out in March and 42 in April. It is taking in between 225 and 250 animals a month and puts 20 percent of the animals to sleep.

"Adoption rates are up," Van Gheem said. "But, of course, being impatient, I'd like to see them all go home today."

She said that the three feline diseases, FIV, FELV and FIP have been a growing problem in the Payson area for several years.

"People who have outdoor cats especially should have their cats tested," she said. "Cats can range as far as six miles from their homes."

For information on adoption, contact Lisa Harmon at 472-8197 or the Payson Humane Society at 474-5590.

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