In the past week, since I posted about the Greenville Co pound’s horrific policy on kitten killing, readers have been sending me e-mail exchanges they’ve had with the pound’s veterinarian, Teri Worl. Dr. Worl is the person reportedly responsible for the decision to take newborn kittens of certain weights away from their mothers to kill them. I am sharing one exchange here, sent to me by Diana Riglet, director of Foster Paws Rescue.
Ms. Riglet told me she forwarded an e-mail she had received from Austin Pets Alive celebrating three years of no kill and wrote her own letter along with it. This e-mail was sent to Paula Gucker, assistant county administrator, Shelly Simmons, division manager of the Greenville Co pound, and board members of Foster Paws Rescue. The e-mail was then apparently forwarded by someone to Dr. Worl. Here is Ms. Riglet’s original e-mail:
On Thursday, February 20, 2014 11:14 AM, Diana Riglet wrote:
As you can see GCAC doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel”, but simply model their life saving efforts after a successful shelter.
When I see a situation unfolding at the shelter as I write this e-mail I wonder how dedicated to No Kill GCAC actually is. The cat sick hold kennels are full and there are several cats with ringworm. Rescue groups have been advised to pull these cats or they will lose their lives. I don’t understand why the shelter isn’t also reaching out to the cat loving public for help. I posted on the shelter FB pet rescue page, not the shelter, me personally, for foster homes for these cats. I also posted on Foster Paws Rescue FB page. So far this week my group has pulled seven cats and we are trying to secure foster homes to pull more. FYI four of the sick hold cats we thought well enough to go into the adoption center at Pet Smart. Why then were these cats not in the adoption kennels where they could be seen and possibly adopted by the cat loving public?
Why doesn’t the shelter have a ring worm ward and a URI ward? The cat loving public will adopt these cats!
The question also begs to asked, if the shelter is vaccinating on intake and has revamped its cleaning and medical protocols why are we still seeing so many cats with URI and ring worm?
Finally it seems that some momentum has been lost in terms of moving toward increasing the live save rate at the shelter. I’ve seen your 2013 stats. If accurate, a 50% live cat save rate is unimpressive. If all the programs and services of the No Kill Equation had been implemented with gusto you would have a 90% or better live save rate by now. Many shelters have achieved just such a live save rate within a year or sooner of implementing all the programs/services. It doesn’t take five years! In fact those who say they’ll be No Kill in five years never achieve No Kill.
This is the response she received from Dr. Worl who, to reiterate, was not one of the intended recipients:
On Friday, March 7, 2014 8:39 AM, “Worl, Teri” <email@example.com> wrote:
I would love to respond to your concerns regarding the veterinary care of our animals. It would be much easier for me to do that if you would direct your questions to me, a veterinarian, rather than asking someone without veterinary training to comment on veterinary questions. With that said, I will address each of your points.
A question I would like answered about the “successful shelters” to which you are referring is how many healthy cats do they have awaiting adoption? While we would love for all of our cats to find loving homes it is very difficult to justify using more resources to rehome sick cats when healthy cats are being euthanized due to space constraints.
But more to the point, we do reach out to the public for help rehoming sick animals. In fact, all you have to do is walk around our shelter to see signs pleading for foster homes for sick animals. There are hundreds of animals in our foster care program, most of them there because they are ill. We don’t, however, adopt out sick animals to the general public as that would not only be very irresponsible of us, but sick animals cannot undergo surgery and should not receive vaccinations. Instead, we encourage customers to foster-to-adopt, as many of them plan to adopt the animals when they return to health. The foster-to-adopt program has been very successful; in fact nearly 100 cats have been saved by it in just the last two and a half months that might otherwise have had to be put to sleep. This is in addition to our regular cat adoption efforts.
The four cats in sick hold to which you referred were not on the adoption floor because a trained veterinarian had examined them and determined that they were not yet healthy enough to return to the adoption floor. There are many very subtle signs of illness displayed in cats and dogs which typically go unnoticed if not specifically checked for. In addition, if full courses of medications are not completed the animal is at higher risk of relapse. Furthermore, cats continue actively shedding viruses beyond resolution of clinical signs so we take extra precautions in our sick animals. Taking an animal straight out of sick hold and putting them into a stressful environment such as PetSmart is highly unadvisable as it increases viral shedding by 60% and puts other animals at risk.
We would love to have specific wards for different illnesses. But we do not even have enough wards to house all of the healthy animals we have here, much less the sick animals.
Illness in cats is a multifaceted issue. It takes several days for a vaccine to prime the immune system of an animal. Generally speaking, it is a minimum of 5 days before a vaccinated animal would respond well enough to a vaccine for it to be effective. Depending on age, an animal may require between 1-3 booster vaccines given every 2-4 weeks to be considered immune to the disease against which we vaccinate. This is best case scenario and assumes a healthy animal. Cats and dogs are vaccinated prior to entering the general population, however, since the vaccine will not be effective for several days the cats may still be susceptible to any disease to which they are exposed. Unfortunately, this is the least of our challenges with cat illness.
While vaccines are important in preventing illness in cats stress reduction is infinitely more important. About 60-75% of cats coming into the shelter will already be harboring viral diseases. This is the same percentage of cats harboring illness in the community. They are in carrier states. However, they do not shed these viruses consistently and do not show signs of illness until and unless they become stressed. Stress suppresses the immune system and allows secondary bacterial infections to take hold. This is when cats start to show signs of illness.
The same is true for ringworm. Many cats will be in a carrier state and never show clinical signs of the disease. But when they become stressed they may start losing hair. Once ringworm spores are shed an entire room can be quickly infected. To give ringworm the opportunity to spread in our shelter by keeping infected cats in adoptable areas would not only be unfair to unaffected cats but, as a zoonotic disease, is also a public health risk to those individuals entering our facility. Should we someday have a ringworm ward, where special precautions can be made when entering/exiting the area to protect healthy cats as well as people visiting, adoption opportunities may then be a conceivable option.
We have taken many steps to help reduce stress in our cats. In my last correspondence with you I invited you to come in and discuss the efforts we have made but you did not respond.
Finally, I will leave you with the following:
Animals being euthanized in shelters indicates a problem in the community.
In the two emails I have read from you there has been considerable criticism and negativity. Constant badmouthing by rescue groups and other individuals in the community is not only detrimental to the shelter but it directly harms the animals you say you want to help.
The animals here get sick because we are overcrowded. Not because we don’t care properly for them. If you want to save the cats then help us get the healthy cats out of here BEFORE they get sick. Pull healthy, highly adoptable cats quickly and get them into homes. It is a chain reaction. If you take a healthy cat you will get it rehomed much more quickly and use fewer resources. Once that cat is rehomed then pull another cat and do the same. If you can place two cats in the time that it would take you to get one cat healthy enough to adopt then you have saved double the number of cats. And if you’ve pulled double the number of cats from the shelter then that reduces the number of cats in the wards which, in turn, lowers the level of stress and illness in the cats and fewer cats are at risk of euthanasia due to illness or space constraints.
Every person in this shelter is here because they love animals. We have the same goal that you do: to save the lives of these innocent animals! So instead of criticizing us why won’t you get behind us and listen to some of our ideas about how to help? We could certainly use your help.
Dr. Teri Worl
Greenville County Animal Care Services
328 Furman Hall Rd
Greenville, SC 29609
Ms. Riglet states that she replied by e-mail that she would be happy to meet with Dr. Worl. Further, she says she stopped by the pound one day and asked to see Dr. Worl but was told she wasn’t there. Ms. Riglet says she left a greeting card with a note requesting a meeting, plus a bound copy full of material on no kill. She never received a response.
I am opening up the floor for your impressions. Does reading this letter from Dr. Worl make you feel better, worse or the same about her policy to take newborn kittens of certain weights from their mothers to kill them? If you are a rescuer, foster, or other shelter pet advocate, how does Dr. Worl’s letter make you feel as far as partnering with her to save lives? Based upon this letter, what do you believe is the likelihood of the Greenville Co pound achieving no kill under Dr. Worl’s leadership? If you were advocating for no kill in Greenville Co, what might be your next steps?