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New pet owners say Halifax-area rescue cats got sick soon after adoption

Some pet owners in Nova Scotia who adopted cats from the Bahamas through a Halifax-area animal rescue organization say their new felines soon developed serious health problems, problems that have led to expensive veterinary bills and even death. death.

Dalhousie University graduate student Sarrah Putwa said a pair of kittens she adopted in late February from South Paw Conservation quickly became ill and later tested positive for feline leukemia (FeLV), a highly contagious and often fatal retrovirus that infect cats.

“All I can think about is that I’m going to lose them,” Putwa said in an interview. “And I, like, cried and cried my eyes out. And how much pain my cats have been in all these days and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Putwa is one of five people interviewed by CBC News who say they adopted or were asked to adopt cats from South Paw Conservation who were later diagnosed with FeLV. The Upper Tantallon, NS, group works with a humane society in the Bahamas to bring rescued dogs and cats to Canada, adopting them for a fee of about $280.

A Halifax veterinarian calls for stricter rules on the health of animals put up for adoption. Dr. Katie O’Hanley, a veterinarian at North End Animal Hospital, said she regularly faces situations where owners say they were never told about their new pet’s health, leading to many unexpected expenses.

“I would say I see one a week, not from the same rescue, but from multiple rescues, multiple cats, dogs,” he said.

O’Hanley said laws in the province about disclosing a pet’s illness and providing health tests are lax. Many people, he said, will see an ad that says a pet up for adoption has been reviewed and believe the organization is an authority on health and has regulations in place, but that’s not always the case.

South Paw says cats are screened

South Paw Conservation director Terri-Lyn Rhyno said in an email that the organization relies on the medical certificate provided by the Bahamas Humane Society and veterinary advice, and that information is shared with the potential adopter. Cats are tested for FeLV if symptoms are present.

“The kittens adopted by Ms. Putwa had been certified healthy, had shown no signs of ill health after arrival in Canada, when examined by the CFIA veterinarian or prior to adoption, and accordingly were not was not tested for feline leukemia or any other condition,” Rhyno said in the email.

“More importantly, Ms Putwa did not ask if the kittens she wanted to adopt had been tested for feline leukemia and was not told that they did not have feline leukemia.”

Some organizations do proactive testing for feline leukemia. The Nova Scotia Humane Society, for example, tests all cats it plans to adopt for the virus.

Putwa signed a contract that said South Paw “does not guarantee” the health of a pet. Rhyno said the organization offered to have Putwa’s cats examined by his vet or take them back, but South Paw can’t pay “lifetime vet bills for every animal we rescue.”

“South Paw Conservation volunteers rescue animals out of compassion and a desire to help homeless animals that might otherwise be left without care, living out their lives in a small cage or being euthanized in a shelter,” Rhyno said.

“We do this in good faith with the best current information we have with limited funds to do so. We are transparent with all potential owners and if we become aware of any known health issues or viral status, potential owners are informed.”

Bahamas Veterinary Document

Putwa decided to adopt from South Paw Conservation after researching online, but admits she was unsettled by the experience from the start.

“I get the vet papers and she says, this is all we have. It’s like these crumpled vet papers from the Bahamas,” Putwa said.

Putwa said she was told her cats, which she named Chui and Habibi, were checked by a vet in the Bahamas and again by one in Canada, though she was not given proof of the Canadian exam.

All domestic dogs and domestic cats imported into Canada must undergo a documentary inspection by the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure that the animal’s rabies vaccination is up to date and that the animal’s description matches.

The CBSA will also visually inspect the animal to ensure there are no visible signs of illness or injury, and may refer it to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for further examination.

According to Nova Scotia Animal Protection Actall cat and dog sales must be accompanied by a valid veterinary health certificate, called a Schedule A form, which is printed from the Department of Agriculture website.

kittens get sick

Although Putwa’s cats arrived with a form signed by a veterinarian in the Bahamas, she did not receive a Schedule A form. However, she went ahead with the adoption.

She said things took a turn for the worse almost immediately when she brought the kittens home.

“It’s just day 1 diarrhea,” he said. “I understood that stress causes diarrhoea, so I waited 24-48 hours, which is when it’s supposed to go away. It didn’t.”

After numerous visits to the vet and hundreds of dollars later, the vet told Putwa that both cats tested positive for the feline leukemia virus.

Confused and heartbroken, Putwa said she reached out to South Paw for clarification and help. She was told that South Paw would not pay for cat care. The group removed a post she made on the organization’s Facebook page.

“I was surprised. I thought, if they are based on transparency and animal care, why would they hide my cat’s medical problem? That was not the answer I expected, that they would delete my post. “

Other adopters

Putwa took to the social media platforms Reddit and Facebook to express her concerns and others have contacted them, saying they too had had bad experiences.

Sarah Abriel is one of them. She adopted a cat and her kitten from South Paw a year ago and named them Chicky and Cheeto.

After several months, their health began to decline and after a trip to their local vet, Abriel was told that they both had FeLV. The cats lived inside Abriel’s house and were not in contact with other cats that could have transmitted the virus during that time.

Not long after receiving the diagnosis, Abriel had to put down the kitten, Cheeto.

“I made the appointment and euthanized her on Friday July 30, she was 10 months old, she had only been sick for 10 days,” Abriel said.

Tiffany Bezanson also adopted from South Paw in February and was recently told by her vet that her cat is FeLV positive. She said her children have grown fond of her new cat, but have been told the animal likely only has about three more years to live.

“We may not even be three years old, right? And that’s the hard part too, having to go through this and watch a kitten suffer as they die from this disease, it’s going to be hard for everyone.”

Putwa said he wants changes to the law and urges people to contact their MLAs to pressure them to “put in place tougher regulations to protect these animals and make sure these rescues that bring animals in or even rescue animals from Nova Scotia are testing them.” “. adequately.”

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