WATERVILLE — The Humane Society Waterville Area shelter on Webb Road remains closed as staff cleans the facility and takes care of animals during an outbreak of feline panleukopenia, or distemper, a highly contagious viral disease that has killed about 20 cats and kittens there.

“They’re holding it together,” shelter Executive Director Lisa Smith said Friday. “Every day they come and try to work through it with a smile on their face, but it takes a toll.”

The shelter closed Sunday, and officials hope to reopen around Oct. 16, two weeks after the closure.

They are working with a veterinarian who specializes in infectious diseases to help manage and resolve the situation. A company is coming in to disinfect the building, and shelter staff members are taking all precautions to contain the illness by wearing protective clothing. All cats and kittens have been vaccinated for distemper and will receive a second round of vaccinations.

“We’re using this as a learning experience to help strengthen all aspects of our protocol and the way we operate at the humane society to make it a safe place for the animals,” said Michael Brown, president of the society’s board of directors.

Brown said Friday that the situation presents an opportunity to reassess how the shelter does things and improve its operations.

Now more than ever, the shelter looks to the community for support, seeking volunteers to help relieve pressure on staff, according to Brown.

“We’ve got a staff that’s putting their heart out, and any little thing that the public can offer will help us get through a trying time like this,” he said.

Volunteers are needed to help clean, fold laundry and bedding, help organize, store items and other work. New volunteers are asked to call the shelter at 873-2430 before going there.

Smith said the shelter needs donations of bleach, paper towels, large-volume trash bags, canned cat food — preferably pate-style — dye-free dry cat food, paper plates and bowls, bath and hand towels, face cloths and puppy training pads to place in cat cages. Cardboard boxes with short sides used for carrying soup cans also are needed, as the shelter uses them for litter boxes and disposes of about 60 a day.

Smith said the shelter is disposing of everything — cat climbing trees, bedding and other items — and is struggling to make ends meet because it has had to triple its vaccination orders and has gone through a lot of syringes and medications.

Anyone wanting to donate funds may send a check to the shelter at 100 Webb Road, Waterville, ME 04901, and note that it is for the viral outbreak; or donate on the website, www.hswa.org, according to Smith.

Smith said she also is looking for someone who would donate a construction-type office trailer to place outside the shelter so it can accept cats on an emergency basis. Anyone who has one may call her at 838-8786, she said.

The shelter is not accepting stray or surrendered cats, and adoptions are on hold as the staff takes steps to combat the virus, but dog adoptions and surrenders may be made by appointment. Smith said there are more than 150 cats and kittens at the shelter, and no adult cats on the adoption floor were affected by the outbreak. It is impossible to know how many cats and kittens are affected with the virus right now, she said.

Though shelter officials do not know the source of the outbreak, Smith said it could have been a colony cat or a trapped cat.

“This is an illness that came from the community,” she said.

The shelter has a staff of 18, 10 of whom are full time, and operates on an annual budget of more than $500,000. The shelter gets funding from fees 26 communities pay for services, as well as from fundraisers and donations.

“We run on a very tight budget,” Brown said. “We also have been applying for grants, and we’re trying to be fiscally conservative with our endowments. We’re working with outside consultants to make sure we are using our resources in the best possible manner.”

Brown said the humane society always is looking for additional board members.

“We could use some with an IT background, we could use some with human resources background, somebody that’s really good with insurances,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17