Inexcusable actions by Harnett County Animal Shelter concerning panleuk outbreak

News of the inexcusable actions by the Harnett County Animal Shelter is making the rounds on social media today on how a recent panleuk (feline panleukopenia also called: feline parvovirus, aka ‘parvo’) outbreak was handled by the Lillington, North Carolina facility.

Killed at Harnett County Shelter

Animal advocate Susan Shaddock explained it best in a statement she wrote up about how many animals, both in cat rescues as well as forever homes, have been put at risk.

“UPDATE: there was parvo in the shelter last week. The shelter posted a notice on its website today, contacted adopters and rescues. Too bad they didn’t care enough to be so conscientious about the cats.

RE THE CATS: Last Wednesday Steve Berube, the shelter manager, was notified that a kitten pulled by rescue had tested positive for panleukopenia. He did nothing. He did not notify anyone, adopters or rescues, did not quarantine the cats, and allowed cats/kittens to be adopted out afterward. Nothing was done until there was an outcry from a local animal advocate. Then they found a dead kitten, which they sent to the lab for necropsy. The results are positive for panleukopenia. All cats in the shelter are being killed.

In a shelter where a responsible protocol is observed, incoming animals are vaccinated and quarantined until their health status can be determined. In Harnett, no. They claim they can’t afford to vaccinate but they are charging $30 for each animal pulled. What does that $30 cover? That $30 could vaccinate almost 20 cats. A rescue asked that question but has not been answered.

As is always the case, the community will be asked to excuse the incompetence of the shelter manager. We will be told that is was “just a mistake” and it won’t happen again. It happens over and over. It needs to stop. This shelter needs management that actually cares about the animals, not somebody who endangers animals and then becomes rude, defensive and belligerent when confronted.

From shelter web page: “Cat and Kitten Adoptions On Hold Until further notice, all Cat and Kitten adoptions to the public and rescues are on hold.”

Rest in Peace

What is WRONG with animal shelters this year? The failure to provide a very inexpensive vaccination to protect the cats in their care along with no notice issued to those who are in possession of exposed felines may even put a few cat rescues out of operation.All of the cats in the shelter were killed due to exposure.

The shelter manager, whom I gather is named Steve, eventually contacted those who rescued or adopted the cats.

Another sweet kitten killed

Steve has been told by the shelter veterinarian that he needs to “disinfect” the shelter. Isn’t that a no-brainer? Shelters are a breeding ground for illness for cats and dogs. It should be common sense to follow a proven cleaning protocol on a daily basis. Not just during an outbreak. It also sounds as though Steve should read up on the benefits of vaccinating upon intake. Although the final decision comes from the Board of Commissioners, a shelter director should push for protection against disease.

This whole mess was avoidable but is typical of the actions of many shelters who appear to care very little about the animals in their care. An album of the dead can be found here.

Please feel free to add to the issues that need correction at this shelter

  • failure to vaccinate – vaccination at shelters is essential.
  • no proven cleaning protocol
  • failure to warn rescues and adopters of highly contagious and potentially fatal illness
  • unnecessary euthanasia since all cats may not have been infected
  • poor use of funds (what WAS the $30 fee spent on?)

Your comments are welcome.


Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Elisa Black-Taylor

Elisa is an experienced cat caretaker and rescuer. She lives in the US. As well as being a professional photographer, Elisa has been a regular contributor to PoC for nine years. See her Facebook page.

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29 Responses

  1. Susan Shaddock says:

    Update, a year later: Community outrage, and a bright light shining on the practices of the shelter management, has produced a great deal of positive change. Chiefly, the manager, Steve, has been stripped of his responsibilities over shelter animals and is now in charge of “animal control” (ie field) operations only, where he continues to be responsible for some awful abuses (long story about a loose bull) with impunity. We’re pretty sure he has dirt on somebody; there is no other reason for keeping someone this incompetent in a job where he has control over the fates of living beings. Even his field staff complains to me about his incomprehensible sloth and apathy. But as to the shelter: the new manager, who came on around the first of the year, has made this shelter a different place. It has been reorganized with a quarantine room and a sick room for cats. A foster program has been implemented. Rescue groups are appreciated and actively “courted.” Vaccines and combo tests are now available. The walls have been repainted in cheerful, attractive, non-institutional colors and the staff is pleasant and relaxed even during very busy times. It makes a big difference for them when their supervisor actually works rather than spending the day on Facebook or smoking outside.

    The changes were possible because the Commissioners deemed that they should be made, and they took that action because the public insisted that they do so. Loudly. Forty people attended the Commissioners’ meeting after this mass euthanasia and a petition was presented with about 2,000 signatures. The local newspaper, which typically cheerleads for the County, published an objective article and there was minor coverage from other local media. There are still changes to be made — the shelter is woefully understaffed and underfunded — but change WILL occur so long as we citizens continue to communicate to our elected officials the changes we want to see.

  2. Courtenay Garver says:

    I fostered 4 kittens from that disgusting place. They were scheduled to die on Wednaesday. I was on vacation and said I would foster if someone could pull. 2Paws Up pulled and I picked them up from a guy in Raleigh when I got back to town. They were infested with fleas and skinny. I found homes for all 4 (I ended up with one). Friends adopted the others. When I read how they treat animals, it breaks my heart. Could’ve been my 4 being euthanized… ugh. Step it up or shut down Harnett! And why do people take their pets and strays there anyway? It’s public knowledge how awful they are.

  3. Annette Luffman-Johnson says:

    L D…..Were you talking about Harnett County’s Shelter or Rowan County?
    I am so sorry you were not allowed to adopt the cat you wanted! That was a pretty pathetic excuse you were given, in my opinion! Sounds to me like they actually WERE trying to HIDE SOMETHING….ESPECIALLY if they had the cat in an area where it couldn’t be seen! That was an automatic death sentence for those cats stacked in there! That’s disgusting!
    Marina Burt….has anyone contacted you about getting something done, as you suggested?

  4. MARIANNA BURT says:

    There are many, many horror stories & it’s been going on for decades. No more talk — time to organize for reform — how do we get started?

  5. L D says:

    Has anyone ever been to this shelter? I have. It’s a death sentence to almost any animal that passes through its doors. Of course they don’t vaccinate, every animal only has a week to live, unless they are adopted. When I was there they had cages in a garage stacked floor to ceiling with cats that never were even put up for adoption. I begged to be able to take a cat in one of those cages, but turned down because it had a cut on its nose and I was told that if anyone saw it they might think it was abused at the shelter.

  6. MARIANNA BURT says:

    Harnett is a neighboring county & I would like to offer legal help if appropriate. Also I think solid factual input is needed — veterinary public health info from nearby NC State Vet School, Nat’l. Assoc. of Shelter Veterinarians, etc. Is anyone interested in setting this up?

    • Angela Coats says:

      Marianna, what would it take to get this going? I have some friends that run a rescue group and I’m sure they would be interested.

      • MARIANNA BURT says:

        The first thing is to get an open group of people together who want to work on this (maybe a FB page?) We should start by sharing our info about what needs to be changed, then consolidate the ideas & divide up the tasks to get the ball rolling. I know this sounds vague but the organizing will unfold as we go along. I would like to contact the people I know well in Rowan Co. who pulled off a big job last year to clean house in the shelter. They can tell us how they did it step by step — & their situation was (almost) as bad as Harnett. Let me know the ideas you would start with & how we should gather the group.

  7. Deb says:

    Does anyone know who is higher in charge that would care to make the necessary changes so someone could begin to circulate a petition demanding more humane action be taken? The petition would have to be placed in the hands of the right person who could do something about this.

  8. June Sommer says:

    There are a few Harnett Shelter workers that do care about all the animals! However, their hands are probably tied by the Shelter manager(who, I might add…spends too much time outside smoking!) And the county Commissioners!

  9. Suzanne says:

    I am crying. Thank You Elisa for the article.My personal opinion is We should “euthanize” the shelter director.

  10. Elisa Black-Taylor says:

    You’re arguing with experts in veterinary medicine. Now who should we believe? You or them?

  11. Elisa says:

    This article tells how a cat is protected within hours against panleuk. This is why intake vaccination is so critical.

    • Beth Stranton says:

      I guess you missed the all important word of “some” in this comment there, “Some protection …” And again, if an animal’s immune system is already compromised by other diseases or malnutrition (or even poor genetics), then the vaccination will not take effect, putting them at the far end, or never-end of the probability bell-curve on how long it will take.

  12. Beth Stranton says:

    The dead-virus (or genetically manipulated strains of it which are unable to reproduce) are injected into the animal. This triggers the animal’s immune response to mount a defense against any future contact with that viral pathogen. Even this takes time for the animal’s immune system to do so. For example: in the case of rabies vaccines it takes 28 days or more for the animal to build-up a defense against it after the initial vaccination, and this is only if the animal already has a healthy immune system (not infected with FIV or other immunity-compromising infections). This means that they can contract rabies until that time-period has passed if released outdoors again too soon and come in contact with rabies.

    Kittens do not have a working immune system until after many months old.

    This is the very same reason that so many kittens taken from outdoor colonies pass on rabies to any adopters of those kittens too.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Beth, I appreciate your comment but I have amended it slightly without altering what you intend to state as parts where unnecessarily rude.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Having read the article and your comment I don’t see the relevance of your comment. What point are you making?

      • Beth Stranton says:

        Once an animal is infected with the live virus a vaccine will not prevent it nor cure it. A vaccine has to be given long before there is a viral infection.

        The same for rabies. If a cat already has rabies a vaccination will not cure it of rabies. It will go on do die and possibly transmit rabies(if it bites or scratches anyone during the last 2 weeks before it dies of rabies, or someone gets the cat’s saliva or freshly-dried saliva from a cat’s coat in a wound or their mouth. This can happen as much as 11 months later — the longer incubation period for rabies, average incubation period for that virus in an animal is about 6 months.

  13. Lori (3BM) says:

    This is so inexcusable! As others have done, we ask told Steve about low cost vaccines via Zoetis and his response was they couldn’t afford it! Seriously?
    Is euthanasia cheaper than vaccinating? Does the village of idiots know how to clean to rid the cages of PL?
    What is up with LOOKING at cats and kittens and deeming them “OK”
    You don’t SEE it until the poor things are near dead. Incompetence at its finest.
    Get these tools OUT of Harnett before even more lose their lives!!!

  14. Elisa Black-Taylor says:

    I’m very sensitive to shelter secrecy on panleuk because that’s what put an end to our rescuing cats. The shelter didn’t tell us we had half a dozen kittens coming down with it. The day after we pulled them they killed every kitten under 4 months old. A lot of rescues were infected because of secrecy. People even adopted exposed cats. It was a nightmare.

  15. Isabell Eling says:

    I will not stand up for any shelter, and I do not agree with any of these wrong doings. However, you all realize that when the public finds out a shelter has a case of Panluek, they won’t adopt ANY of the cats. All the healthy cats will be on top of the already nonhealthy. The manager should have notified rescues, b/c they get so many out at one time, but to let the entire county know, will hurt every single cat in there. Breaks my heart this has happened. I hope they get their shit together & start vaccinating/testing these animals as soon as they come into the door! No excuses.

    • Susan says:

      Isabell if this shelter quarantined and vaccinated at intake this would not have happened. They vaccinate and deworm puppies. They do nothing for kittens.

  16. MF says:

    I have no words for the way these animals are treated. I was in there a few weeks ago to adopt a kitten and was appauled by the fly infested cages these cats were living in. I immediately went up to Steve, the manager and he Just sat in his chair outside and did nothing about it. After talking with Jeffries and Blevins, I was verbally assured that changes would be made. Obviously not. Now 55 cats and kittens are dead and it all lies on those who are in charge. Way to go guys. Looking good! Negligence and ignorance is the problem. Still, nothing changes and now dead kitties. They should be ashamed of themselves. No question but it is up to us to be the voice of the animals.

  17. Frances A Danna says:

    OMC. Tears. Prayers for all the poor kittens and cats that lost their lives due to this act of negligence. 🙁

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