DEAR JOAN: My roommate and I have two cats that fill out our family. We recently lost our older cat to illness, and decided the time was right to find another partner for our cat.
After looking extensively online, we decided to go to the San Mateo SPCA to see if we could find a cat that would fit with our somewhat unusual household. While we were there, we sat on the floor and played with several cats. We were pleased and somewhat surprised to find gold on our first trip, a very affectionate Russian blue tabby mix by the name of Norbert -- we renamed him Tribble.
We took Tribble to our vet for a free checkup as provided by the SPCA. Our vet pointed out that Tribble had never been tested for feline immunodeficiency virus or feline leukemia virus. We thought all shelters tested for these diseases and removed the positive cats from general population.
When we called the shelter we were told they don't test any of their cats as it's too expensive.
There were no signs or warnings posted that they don't test for these diseases, and we brought a cat into our home that could have been on his way to being very ill. We were lucky as Tribble tested negative.
Everyone I've mentioned this to has been shocked, so I decided to write you in the hope that you can shed some light on the situation. The San Mateo shelter needs to start testing its cats for these diseases and treating them accordingly when the tests are positive.
DEAR STACEY: I contacted Scott Delucchi, spokesman for the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA, which is the organization where you got Tribble. He confirmed that they do not test for the FIV or FELV unless the cat in question has a history that would suggest it had been exposed, or unless it is exhibiting symptoms.
Cost is the reason. Delucchi says it's not as big of an issue for smaller groups with fewer animals, but his group often has 200 to 250 cats at a time.
I did some checking with other shelters and received mixed reports.
Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation tests all its cats and kittens because they come from public shelters where testing is not usually done. If they have a cat that tests positive, it is separated and potential adopters are told about the cat's status.
The Contra Costa Humane Society tests cats that will be kept in its communal "Kitty Corner," but doesn't test cats that are in foster homes unless they show signs of the disease or have been taken from situations where they were more likely to have been exposed. The Berkeley animal shelter tests in cats kept in communal habitat rooms, but not others unless there is a reason.
Kittens younger than 8 weeks and cats that have been vaccinated shouldn't be tested as they can give a false positive result. Testing is more routinely done on outdoor cats, where exposure is more likely.
I understand your concern and while the adoption groups are good about separating cats and testing when needed, the system is not foolproof and I agree that people should at least know of the shelter's policies.
It's always a good idea to ask questions and you can request the shelter test the cat before bringing it home; they will add the cost to your adoption fee. Always get your animal checked out at a vet after adoption.