When Wheaton resident Katie Patton learned dozens of Himalayan cats and kittens had been mysteriously abandoned in the Wheaton area earlier this month, she jumped into action. Patton has been involved in animal rescue and fostering for years, and she was eager to help, even adopting one of the Himalayan kittens, whom she named Buddy.
But soon, Patton realized something was very wrong. Buddy became very ill. He was suffering from vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and wasn’t eating or drinking. He also developed a thick mucus coming out of his mouth and nose.
“He started throwing up at 8 a.m., and by 10:30 a.m. he was completely lethargic and limp,” Patton said. She rushed Buddy to a veterinarian, who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and referred Patton to an emergency vet.
“We didn’t even make it 10 minutes down the road [to the vet] when he passed away in my arms,” Patton said.
Buddy had feline panleukopenia virus, also known as feline distemper, a highly contagious and deadly parvovirus. And he wasn’t the only one. Several of the cats in Patton’s care and in the care of other volunteers have the virus, and five more of the cats Patton was fostering died.
Patton said the virus is easily prevented by a routine vaccine, which leads her to believe the owner of the cats was mistreating them or couldn’t keep up with the cats’ routine healthcare needs and abandoned them. According to petMD, vaccination for feline panleukopenia virus is standard and part of a multivalent vaccine most kittens receive. The cost can range from $10 to $40.
“It could’ve been prevented by a single shot,” Patton said. “I was absolutely heartbroken… it was such a horrible and devastating situation to deal with and watch these cats die. The public needs to know about this and we need to get word out there so we can catch whoever is [abandoning the cats], because they’re going to keep doing this. This is absolutely animal cruelty.”
Patton said she’s also concerned that because of how highly contagious the virus is, it could be passed to other feral cats and domestic cats in the community.
It’s unknown who abandoned the cats, but Montgomery County Cat Coalition trapping coordinator Beverly Carragher said the factors in the situation have led rescuers to hypothesize that a unlicensed “backyard” breeder released the kittens.
The Montgomery County Cat Coalition is a local non-profit that works to humanely trap feral cats, neuter and release them, as well as rescue cats. Carragher said the organization got a call about six Himalayans that needed to be trapped on Aug. 25, and then they kept finding more and more along the Sligo Creek Trail. That’s when she realized something unusual was going on.
“They’re easy to spot because they’re white or cream colored, and they are long haired, so definitely not outside cats,” Carragher said.
Carragher said that so far, more than 45 Himalayan cats have been rescued from the area around the Sligo Creek Trail since the coalition was first notified at the end of August, and they are still getting calls. The group has been working with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police to investigate who may have been behind the abandonment.
“[The police] are doing the best they can to try to find out who would have done this. It is a tragic thing to do. I just want to try to rescue as many kitties as possible,” Carragher said.
She said the group has canvassed the community and residents have been helpful about calling to report cat sightings.
Fortunately, not all of them have the virus, and Carragher said most of the cats were in perfect shape for adoption.
“They’re very pretty cats, and we have been spaying and neutering them,” Carragher said.
Montgomery County Partners for Animal Well-Being is handling all adoptions in partnership with the Montgomery County Cat Coalition but has closed adoptions for the Himalayans. Those who are interested in adopting other rescue cats can fill out the form here.
If you spot a Himalayan that appears to be abandoned, Carragher said to contact the Montgomery County Cat Coalition. The group is also seeking volunteers to help with cat rescue efforts.