University of Florida Veterinary Students Play a Leading Role in Cat Rescue

Maddie's Shelter Medicine Staff
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Staff suited up to handle cats with ringworm.

When more than 700 cats were seized from an alleged tragic hoarding situation in their hometown, veterinary students at the University of Florida stepped in to assist in everything from triage examinations to daily care to lyme dips for ringworm infections.

The raid at the failed cat sanctuary was coordinated by HSUS, which was scrambling for space and volunteers when the anticipated 450 cats swelled to more than 700. PetSmart Charities sent a 53-foot Emergency Relief Waggin’ vehicle stocked with 16-tons of cargo worth $80,000, including pet food, wire crates, plastic carriers, bowls, collars, fans, generators, battery chargers and lights to aid the animal rescuers on scene. The equipment was used to create a temporary animal shelter in a local warehouse.

Students and staff from the College of Veterinary Medicine visited the temporary shelter daily to join an army of volunteers to feed, clean, and medicate the cats, many of which suffered from infectious diseases and injuries that had been left untreated. As the weeks ticked by, the college contributed hundreds of hours toward the care of the cats.

When word came two months after the raid that the cats had finally been relinquished by their owners and could be prepared for adoption, the students rallied again. The timing could not have been better, since Dr. Julie Levy, Director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, was currently teaching a course on community cat management.

Designed to teach future veterinarians how to address the homeless community cat problem, the course consisted of lectures each morning followed by training in high-quality high-volume spay/neuter each afternoon. The course instructors originally planned to sterilize approximately 300 stray and feral cats during the week-long course. When the call came for help with the hoarding case, more than 300 of the rescued cats were brought to the College of Veterinary Medicine for neutering, retroviral testing, vaccination, and parasite treatment.  By the end of the week, a total of 672 local strays and alleged hoarding victims had received care at the vet school, smashing all previous records for the number of spay/neuter surgeries performed by the students. An emergency grant from PetSmart Charities supported the medical costs of preparing the cats for adoption.

This weekend, nearly three months since the raid, the cats’ future looks brighter. PetSmart Charities and HSUS are sponsoring a community adoption event with the goal of placing hundreds of cats in loving homes. The event will be held in Gainesville, Fla. on August 26-28, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in partnership with the Alachua County Humane Society at their location, 4205 NW 6th St.

The former owners of the cats have been charged with 47 felony counts of animal cruelty and are awaiting trial.

UF Vet Students and Maddie's Shelter Medicine Staff
Vet Students and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Staff.

UPDATE: Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Resident Dr. Cate McManus led the veterinary triage team that responded to a hoarding investigation involving more than 700 cats. More than 2 months later, cats are finally getting the homes they deserve.