Mauians line up early to protect their pets

KAHULUI – Hundreds of Maui residents sought vaccinations for their feline companions Sunday against a potentially deadly panleukopenia virus that reached the island late last month.

However, many were turned away by officials with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Maui due to a limited supply at the organization’s Kahului clinic.

“They were lined up along the street,” SPCA Maui Director Peter Tierney said, while gesturing out to Hukilike Street. “People started showing up at 6:30 a.m., and we had to start assigning numbers because there was 250 people here and we were like, ‘What?'”

Offering the vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis, only about 150 cats were immunized. The vaccine provides prevention against the virus, as well as most upper-respiratory diseases.

Cats that had never been immunized before need to come back for a second dose next month, then another in a year and then once every three years, said veterinarian Susan Baillie.

She was struck by the number of cats she saw Sunday that were unprotected from disease.

“They haven’t had vaccines period – ever,” she said. “You must vaccinate your cats. It’s a very preventable disease, but it is lethal.

“It’s also very expensive to treat, and most cats don’t recover from it.”

The Maui Humane Society has reported one confirmed case and three suspected cases of the virus, as of June 9.

Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious and life-threatening disease that attacks rapidly dividing cells prevalent in the intestinal tract and bone marrow of cats, according to the website petMD. The disease can lead to anemic conditions, especially for pregnant, immune-deficient and newborn cats. The virus also can survive for years in contaminated environments and can quickly spread in unvaccinated populations.

While humans are not susceptible to the disease itself, they can carry it on their hands, clothes or shoes and pass it on to their pets. Baillie advised cat owners to practice good hygiene by washing their hands and clothes, and keeping shoes outside, away from indoor cats.

While the virus is prevalent on the Mainland, it is new to Maui, where a majority of the cats treated Sunday did not have prior vaccinations.

The cats, held in hard-sided carriers and traps, were treated in the nonprofit’s new 1,500-square-foot clinic, which formerly was a warehouse bay. Pet owners sat outside under a tent, and cats were placed on tables and separated by household.

In between batches of cats to be immunized, dozens of volunteers sterilized each table and brought a handful of cats to a back office where Baillie administered vaccine shots to the back right shoulder of the cats.

“So far we’ve had very friendly cats, and no aggressive or angry ones, which makes me happy,” Baillie said.

Among the fortunate owners who had their cats vaccinated Sunday was Tiffany Naughton of Kihei.

Naughton said she brought her two cats to the clinic at around 8:30 a.m. and was “really lucky” that SPCA Maui still had a supply of vaccinations available.

“They started turning people away,” she said. “It’s a blessing. We had heard about it, and I said ‘OK, I got the day off we’re going to run down there and do it.’ We didn’t think it was going to be this busy.”

Mary Walker of Makawao brought four cats to the clinic Sunday, but she plans to bring another 16 “in dribs and drabs” that reside in her landlord’s registered feral colony.

“We were concerned with the virus, especially with the inside kitties because the outside kitties are part of a stray colony,” Walker said. “We’ve actually had some people know that cats live at (my landlord’s) house, and they’ll come by and just abandon their cat. It’s sad. So we have to make sure that the cats at least get their shots so we have a colony that’s healthy.”

One of the last residents to make the list was Jan Sato of Waiehu, who thanked SPCA Maui for hosting the first-time event.

“I guess they anticipated a lot of response, but it could have gone either way. Either nobody would come, or they would be inundated – which it was,” Asato said. “But we’re really happy they’re doing this.”

Tierney said he hopes to hold another mass vaccination at the clinic Sunday, along with the clinic’s spay and neuter program, which will be by appointment only.

“We’ve had no physical location since last Saturday,” he said of the nonprofit, which was founded about 4 years ago. “Now that we have a facility we can do (vaccinations) every day.”

In previous years, SPCA Maui has had to conduct clinics on Sundays, when businesses were closed and offered their space. The new location, which will undergo a $60,000 renovation to include a surgery suite and exam rooms, will be completed by January – possibly earlier, Tierney said.

The nonprofit plans to offer vaccines on any cat being spayed or neutered. However, it is seeking funding through contributions to cover the additional cost.

SPCA Maui operates on donations, having treated approximately 3,000 cats and 1,000 dogs, for owners who otherwise might not be able to afford to spay or neuter their pets.

“Nobody budgeted for the vaccine. This was not part of the planning period,” Tierney said. “This caught everybody by surprise.”

For information on Sunday’s spay/neuter clinic, the panleukopenia feline virus or the SPCA Maui’s building fund, contact Tierney at 280-0738 or The organization’s website is at

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at

* This article contains a correction from the original that appeared Monday, June 16, 2014 on Page A1 and continued to Page A3. The story quoted Waiehu resident Jan Sato. Her name was misspelled in the story. The Maui News apologizes for the error.