WATERVILLE — The Humane Society Waterville Area shelter on Webb Road is closed until further notice because of an outbreak of feline distemper, a highly contagious viral disease that has killed cats and kittens at the facility, according to the society’s Facebook page.

The shelter, including the dog adoption floor, closed on Sunday, the notice says.

“As you may have heard, there has been an outbreak of feline distemper that has claimed the lives of several of our precious cats and kittens,” it says. “We are working to keep our population as healthy as possible in addition to appropriately decontaminating and sanitizing our holding rooms.”

Shelter volunteers are being asked to call the shelter or send a private message before going to the facility.

“It is at the discretion of our staff as to when volunteers are able to come in. It is of utmost importance that we limit exposure.”

Shelter director Lisa Smith has been on a planned vacation out of state but will return for an emergency meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, according to Kelly Couture, a member of the humane society’s board of directors.

Couture said Monday in a phone interview that officials do not know the source of the distemper, but an email she received from Smith says some cats can be carriers of distemper without being sick.

“That’s why they haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly the cat that may have had it,” Couture said. “They may never know the answer to that.”

Couture said sick animals were taken to cat hospitals in Waterville and Lewiston.

“The doctors there were excellent at saving some,” she said. “Everyone’s goal is to save these kittens.”

She said the shelter has a sanitation protocol and staff are working hard to clean the facility. They are exhausted and sad, according to Couture.

“The workers there are so attached — that’s why they work there. They have been really, really upset.”

Couture said the shelter desperately needs corrugated boxes that are typically used to carry soup cans and have short sides, as they are used for litter pans and are disposed of after each use. The shelter is going through 60 a day, so if people want to drop them off at the shelter at 100 Webb Road, staff would appreciate it, she said.

Shelter officials have called people who have adopted cats and kittens. They also have called families who have been fostering animals that may be at risk.

The shelter is not accepting stray or surrendered cats, and all adoptions are on hold until further notice.

“Please be patient with us as we move forward,” the message on Facebook says. “We will work to answer messages and phone calls to the best of our ability. Our staff is limited and they are working directly with our animals to ensure their health and well being. As mentioned many times before, we love these animals as our own and we are beyond devastated. There are no words to accurately describe the heartbreak we are suffering.”

Couture said this is considered cat season at the shelter, as people who typically give up their cats do so before winter sets in. She estimated the shelter has about 50 cats.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17