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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