Indiana News

Outbreak of deadly virus kills four tigers and sickens several more at Exotic Feline Rescue Center

CENTER POINT, Ind. (WTHI) – An outbreak of a deadly disease has struck a Wabash Valley sanctuary. Those at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana are fighting to keep the cats alive.

According to 24-Hour News 8 sister station, WTHI, Rebecca Rizzo is Head Keeper at the rescue, and she has spent the past twelve years creating a unique bond with the animals. “Every day you come in, no matter what is going on in your life, you find a reason to smile,” but finding a reason these days is getting more and more difficult.

“There’s not a dry eye. We’re all really upset, and you’ve got to keep going because there’s other cats you need to take care of, but then you go home at night and it just hits you. We’ve done everything we can to give these cats the best life we possible can and to think of it all coming to an end,” said Rizzo.

A virus known as canine distemper has killed three tigers, one lion, and has sickened several more large cats. The outbreak of the virus – which has no cure and is usually associated with dogs.

“We did find a dead raccoon several weeks ago, which sends up flags when we find dead raccoons just randomly, it wasn’t long after that the cats started getting sick,” said Fred Froderman, the Veterinarian at the center.

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The virus can quickly progress from respiratory issues to neurological problems. “The cats who have passed developed a terrible pneumonia,” said Froderman.

Although there are vaccines for dogs and ferrets, studies have shown the dog vaccine isn’t safe for big cats and no evidence the ferret vaccine is effective in big cats. “It’s just draining because our hands are tied, and there’s not a thing we can do but support them and hope they pull through,” explained Froderman.

Several tigers have caught distemper and since recovered, but there’s nothing to stop the highly contagious virus from spreading. “That’s are only option right now is to get everybody vaccinated to boost their immune systems and hope this whole things passes,” said Froderman.

In the meantime, Rizzo is just one of many workers who is cherishing the sweet moments.”You come in and see the healthy cats, and you just keep going, you find your solace in them,” she said.

Froderman told News 10, the two tigers currently in the clinic have a slim chance of survival due to old age.

The rescue center is still open, and experts say the virus poses no threat to people.