NYCACC Experiences

Recently I transported a whole bunch of kittens out of the New York City shelters in two trips. Doing so means spending and killing time in the lobbies of the shelters, which is always interesting. On this trip I had an experience I’m still thinking about.

I was waiting in the lobby of the Brooklyn shelter for the final “tech check” on the kittens I was taking. Interestingly, ACC shelters don’t test for FIV/FeLV until just before the cat is due to leave. FIV is transmitted for the most part through deep bite wounds, so because cats are generally housed singly that’s not a problem… but FeLV certainly could be. The feline leukemia virus is transmitted through litter boxes, saliva, nasal secretions, and bites. If all kennels are thoroughly cleaned between residents and everyone washes thoroughly between handling cats and/or food dishes and litter boxes I suppose it might be manageable. However, I doubt that happens. But I digress.

A woman came in wheeling her 14 year old dog in a shopping cart. Her dog, who was very sweet, was in trouble – bleeding heavily from the vagina, lethargic, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink. The woman was unemployed and could not care for her dog. I understand that they couldn’t provide free vet care. I wouldn’t expect that, they need those resources for their own animals, but they had no referrals other than a mobile low-cost clinic which would show up in front of the building… in 5 days. Instead, they had her call the “Pets For Life” hotline, an program of the Humane Society of the United States in New York City that focuses on pet retention assistance. I heard her side of the call; I was very interested as I had never seen the hotline used in the shelters before, though there’s a phone dedicated to it in the lobby. When the person on the other end heard her story, he recommended euthanasia instead of treatment for a dog that no medical professional had looked at or evaluated. When she asked at the desk about euthanasia, they told her it was $125 and she would not be able to be with her animal when they went. She broke down and sobbed in the middle of the lobby – she’d raised the dog from infancy, bottle fed her, but was now unemployed and broke and didn’t know what to do. I asked her to join me outside and offered to take the dog if she wanted to surrender her, and I could promise her that her dog would get the medical care she needed. She couldn’t do it, and I understand. I’m not sure that I would be able to either. I took a look at her dog since it was clear that no one else would. No obvious outward signs of cancer, no wasting, no bulges, no white gums. I told her it could be something as simple as an infection but only a vet could tell her for sure, and that I thought it would be worth at least a professional evaluation for something that might be cleared up with a handful of cheap antibiotics, but only a vet would be able to tell her for sure. She left to take her dog home.

I don’t know what else I or anyone could have done, but I found the dismissal of the value of the life of this dog by a person on a hotline supposedly in the shelters for cases just like this one to be cruel to both animal and owner. I wish I could have done more. I wonder what happened.

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  • dottie

    Thank you for trying to help the woman. It’s too bad that she couldn’t let you take the dog – and I do understand her reluctance to let you. It is just a sad situation all the way around and those who could have helped, didn’t.
    I have been thinking about the woman and her dog all day, wondering what happened, too. It’s too bad someone didn’t get her name and address/phone and try to get her some help somewhere.
    Bless you for getting those kittens outta there, too. You’re a good man!

  • Brie

    What a tragedy. I think something like that would haunt me for a very long time just because the woman was no doubt desperate about someone she loves and wanted to care for. I do wish she would have surrendered the dog to you, John. I know it would not have been easy for her. I hope she managed to find some money from someone she knows to take the dog to a vet. If not, I hope for her sake and her dog’s sake that the time since then has not been harder for them both. For all we know, perhaps the conversation with you helped her in ways you may never know. But for your presence, she would not have had any hope at all. You took the time. You tried. Maybe hope was all she needed and that’s why you crossed paths with her.

  • Jennifer Reding

    Hey, I just wanted to say that I’ve never heard of a hotline set up to help with veterinary care–this shelter at least have one up on the great majority of of others in the country. I’m not entirely surprised that they would say that, they probably made that assessment based on age. As a Vet Tech, I’ve seen tons of abandonments of sick pets at the vet. Sometimes they come in and give you incorrect personal information–sometimes they just open the door and let the dog go in the lobby.

    I also wanted to correct some misinformation about FeLV. While it is shed in saliva, horizontal transmission between cats that does not occur because of a bite wound is quite rare. The virus is not a hardy one and does not live very long outside of a host. I can tell you numerous stories of a FeLV positive cat residing with healthy adult cats that never acquire the virus. It even happened to me back in the 80s. Here is a quote from the Cornell website on FeLV virus:
    How is FeLV spread?
    Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and (though rarely) through the shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. FeLV doesn’t survive long outside a cat’s body—probably less than a few hours under normal household conditions.

    So, removal of an infected cat from a cage and minimal cleaning is sufficient. I would be FAR more worried about Panleukopenia, Ringworm, and Calici virus–all three are much hardier than the FeLV virus and much harder to manage in a multi cat situation.