ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – A disease outbreak has shut down a Rockford animal shelter.

This past weekend, Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, 111 N 1st St, Rockford, IL, closed due to a feline Distemper outbreak, something the nonprofit has never seen before.

Stephanie Lauer, Executive Director of Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, said that feline Distemper is a very serious virus, and if it is caught too late it can be fatal for cats.

“It was a kitten in a litter,” said Lauer. “We came in the morning, and the cats appeared fine the previous day. The kitten was recumbent and down when we took it over to the hospital. They immediately tested for it. It is a tough disease to fight, because just like parvo virus in dogs, it hits very hard, very fast, highly contagious, just like parvo virus in dogs. This is our first time seeing it come through our kennel.”

So far five kittens and one cat have died. Lauer said that this is not just a local problem.

“It is not what I would consider common, as if it is an everyday thing, but we are seeing an outbreak in the entire United States, it is not just here,” Lauer said. “I have actually contacted rescues in California, and they are fighting it tooth and nail.”

The sanctuary has taken extensive cleaning measures to contain the disease and keep other cats from getting sick.

“On Saturday it was just my coworker and I, and it took us 8 hours, from the minute we walked in at 7, and we probably clocked out at 3:15,” said Jaime Balke, Assistant Kennel Manager at Noah’s Ark. “You think you can get them, save them, and bring them in here and they are going to be ok, but you find out they have something from before you even took them, and there was nothing you could do in the first place.”

Lauer says the best way to prevent Dempster is to get your pets vaccinated.

“It is preventable, all you have to do is get a vaccine for your animal once a year from your veterinarian, and we do not have to have this,” said Lauer.

The sanctuary is only allowing scheduled appointments for dog adoptions right now. Cats at the shelter will not be allowed out for the next seven days.

Noah’s Ark is asking for donations of the following: Hand towels, Rescue hydrogen cleaner, plastic gowns, gloves, empty spray bottles and bleach