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The Ferret Villa Shelter Battles An Outbreak Of H1N1 Flu

The Ferret Villa Shelter’s month-long battle to save 17 shelter ferrets from H1N1 flu sees failure, success and a new challenge looming.

By Marylou Zarbock
Posted: March 4, 2011, 2:25 p.m. EST

© Courtesy Tom and Cindy Scheidt
Apollo the ferret lost his battle with H1N1 flu, but 16 other ferrets at the Ferret Villa Shelter are still fighting to survive.

H1N1 flu came and went in 2009 and 2010, right? Think again. Although it was officially declared to be in the post-pandemic period in August 2010, health authorities warn that the H1N1 strain of flu will continue to cause local outbreaks for some years. And its victims aren’t just people. 

Ferrets are the victims of a current H1N1 flu outbreak at the Ferret Villa Shelter in Erlanger, Kentucky. Tom and Cindy Scheidt operate the shelter, and all 17 ferrets at the shelter fell victim to the illness over the course of a few weeks beginning in early February 2011.

Scheidt said the first signs of a problem were coughing, sneezing, low-grade fevers and lethargy. “Then it began to cause severe respiratory problems, and it began to spread from cage to cage.”

Apollo, an angora ferret, was taken to the veterinarian on February 10, and a chest X-ray pointed to a diagnosis of pneumonia. On the 11th, Apollo died.

“At that time it was decided to do a postmortem and send samples off to obtain some results,” Scheidt said. “When the report came back, there was mention of a possible virus, even a chance that it could be H1N1.”

On February 15, Heinz the ferret was in terrible distress and rushed to the veterinarian. “The vet did not give us much hope that he would be alive in the morning,” Scheidt said. “At that time, we made a decision that as soon as possible they would take a swab of Heinz's throat and send it off to be tested for the H1N1. It came back as positive for H1N1.”

Tara Radford, a ferret enthusiast and resident of Washington state who met the Scheidts through the Yahoo group ClubMedFerrets, described some of what happened as the H1N1 flu swept through the ferret shelter. “The best they could do at that point was supportive care,” Radford said, “but then the secondary infections started hitting.”

Radford said that now, nearly a month later, the 16 ferrets are still alive thanks to the amazing efforts of the Scheidts and their veterinarian. Treatment has included subcutaneous fluids, hand-feeding, medications, breathing treatments and more. Heinz needed to be in the ICU for more than a week; he’s back at the shelter now, but still needs regular vet visits for therapy.

“They started seeing a dim light in the distance become a touch brighter every day,” Radford said.

Although the health crisis might be improving a bit, a new crisis looms — paying for a veterinary bill of more than $7,000.

To answer this need, Radford and three other friends of the Scheidts — Julie Johnson, Angela Havens and Debby Osburn — put out a message to the ferret community asking for help in gathering items for the Ferret Villa Shelter fundraiser. The friends launched the fundraiser in March 2011 and plan to run it for a month.

“The goal would be, of course, to wipe out her vet bill,” Radford said, “but we will be happy with what we get.”

Why is Radford helping to organize and run this fundraiser? Part of the answer lies in what she thinks of the Scheidts. “The more we learned, the more we liked. Cindy was such a huge part of giving,” Radford said. “We watched for years as Cindy and Tom donated, not just their time to others but anything else they could muster. They quickly became our ‘heroes,’ as they are to countless shelters across the United States who have received their kindness and donations of their Ferret Tower of Fun.” 

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The Ferret Villa Shelter Battles An Outbreak Of H1N1 Flu

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Reader Comments
Well done to these guys for the dedication they have shown. We had 1 ferret in 2009 who survived the flu and we thought we were hard pressed,to save 16 is remarkable. Wishing you success in your fundraising.
karen, kendal
Posted: 3/18/2011 4:24:30 AM
This articl is heartwrenching, my prayers go out for the Scheidts. I vaccinated my human family members to protect the fuzzies from the flu, and you would not believe how many people are shocked to find out about the danger for my fuzzies if my family catches the flu or any other respiratory virus. I hope this never happens to any other ferret family, thank you for sharing your story - hopefully this article will enlighten people to the real danger of the flu (H1N1 or other) affecting ferrets.
Leslie, Houston, TX
Posted: 3/7/2011 9:23:22 AM
I met the Scheidts last year and it only took a minute to see what wonderful people they are. We met through our mutual vet, Erlanger Vet Hospital. Having lost my last ferret Phyllis to insulinoma and deciding not to get more ferrets at this time, I was looking to donate the enormous amount of ferret items I had. Erlanger Vet put me in touch with the Scheidts. I gave them everything I had and in turn, they shared these items with other needy shelters. I have met some wonderful people through the Scheidts. I have been to their home and seen first hand the great care they give their ferrets. If you're able to help, please give freely to their shelter. Every little bit helps and they are richly deserving of your donations.
Peggy, Crescent Springs, KY
Posted: 3/6/2011 8:43:34 AM
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