BRUNSWICK — Behind the Coastal Humane Society at 30 Range Road, four volunteers wearing hair nets, booties and bio-hazard suits are crowded around Amy, a terrified-looking orange cat.
Amy is infected with the virulent feline disease ringworm and is undergoing her bi-weekly “spa treatment.” One volunteer brushes her down and hands the brush to another, who swabs it on a petri dish. Two others coo to her as they lower her gently into a tub of yellow liquid, an anti-fungal agent.
Amy meows, but she seems to be tolerating the colorful bath. When her fur is saturated and the color of an orange peel, the volunteers return her to her cage, wipe up the splashes, and get ready for the next cat.
While many of the cats at the shelter came on their own, or in small groups, 37 trailer cats arrived at the humane society from a hoarding situation. According to Karen Stimpson, executive director of the society, their owner had a penchant for rescuing abandoned cats and had accumulated close to 200, many kept in cages.
Animal welfare officials found out about the situation, and have been working to convince the man to gradually give up his cats, a few dozen at a time. More than 150 remain at the house, and Stimpson said she hopes to rescue more as soon as there is space at the shelter.
But the humane society was already crowded because a month earlier it had rescued more than 20 cats from another hoarding situation in Bowdoin.
The elderly owner of those cats moved into hospice care, leaving more than four dozen cats behind.
According to Lisa Smith, customer service and community relations manager for the Coastal Humane Society, cats either found their way to the house or were dropped off there by people who didn’t want them. When they were finally discovered by an animal control officer after the man left home, many had died, and others were running wild. Three were trapped in a washing machine.
Most of those cats were hungry, but otherwise healthy, and Smith said many have already been adopted.
But caring for the second round of ringworm-infected cats has taken a financial toll on the shelter. Because ringworm, a fungus that manifests as athlete’s foot in people, is so contagious, the cats’ bedding, litter boxes, and food bowls must be destroyed daily.
The cats have to be quarantined for weeks until they receive two negatives in a row on their weekly ringworm tests. Every volunteer who enters the cat trailer wears a protective suit that they throw away after each use, and they must change rubber gloves between handling each cat.
“The result from a business point of view is appalling,” Stimpson said, adding that it remains to be seen whether the state will reimburse the society, which has spent almost $10,000 so far. “It would be easy for someone to look around at how labor intensive it is, how miserable the cats are in cages for months of a time, and think, is it worth it?”
But she said the shelter has a policy of only turning to euthanasia as a last resort, and so far, none of the rescued cats have been put to sleep.
“We want to explore every other option before we have to explore that,” she said, although “euthanasia is always a tool we can use, especially if an animal has a terminal illness or is suffering miserably in a cage.”
In order to create more space in the shelter, the organization is giving away cats and kittens, starting on Saturday. The cats from the second hoarding situation aren’t quite ready to be adopted, but there are plenty of other cats to choose from.
Volunteer Krisin Comee, who has been helping to treat the infected cats, set her sights on on Sonny, a one-eyed white cat.
“When kids see him,” she said, “they’ll go running.”
Five hands hold one cat during a ringworm test at the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick.
A not-so-happy black and white cat is dyed yellow from an anti-fungal bath of lyme sulphur. The cat is being treated for ringworm at the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick.
Many hands make light work. Coastal Humane Society staff member Lisa Smith and volunteers Tom McMillan, Kristin Comee, Abby Comee-McCourt pitch in on a ringworm test.
A cat infected with ringworm soaks in an anti-fungal bath.
Volunteers Tom McMillan and Kristin Comee soak a black and white cat infected with ringworm in an anti-fungal bath.
Volunteers Kristin Comee and Abby Comee-McCourt brush a cat as part of a ringworm test.