MPP urging province to stop mass euthanization at GTA shelter

A worker blocks out the windows at a the Newmarket OSPCA, where hundreds of animals were to be euthanized after a severe outbreak of ringworm. (May 11, 2010)

‘Very aggressive strain’ of ringworm and human error blamed for blanket euthanasia.

The MPP for Newmarket-Aurora is speaking out against the “mass destruction” of 350 animals at a York Region SPCA and has urged the province to halt the blanket euthanization.

Frank Klees condemned a York Region SPCA’s decision to put down hundreds of dogs, cats and other small animals following a massive ringworm epidemic that broke out at their Newmarket facility some five weeks ago. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Klees questioned whether every option was considered before such an extreme decision was made and also called upon the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services to intervene in the blanket euthanization, which began Tuesday morning.

“Before this drastic step is taken, I want assurances that all other options have been investigated,” Klees said the press release. “This comes as a shock to the community, and we can’t just allow this mass destruction of these animals to take place without absolute assurance that there are no other options available to us.”  Some 50 volunteers and concerned animal lovers showed up at the Newmarket OSPCA Tuesday morning to protest the animals’ death sentence.

Construction worker Jason Francis rushed to the OSPCA Tuesday morning after seeing his cat on the front page of the Toronto Star as one of 350 animals scheduled to be euthanized. “It was kind of a shock,” Francis said, standing outside the animal shelter desperate for word on the fate of black-and-white J.J. “We thought for sure someone would have picked him up.”

There is still no word on J.J.’s fate.

Staff inside the building wore white hazardous material suits, latex gloves and plastic covers over their shoes. Several windows were blocked with black garbage bags but a few cats could be seen inside, as well as piles of disassembled animal cages. Yellow quarantine tape also hung from the handle of the front door.  The OSPCA disclosed Monday that cats, dogs, rats and other small animals would be euthanized over the next two or three days because of the highly contagious disease.

A combination of a “very aggressive strain” of ringworm with “human error” led to the drastic response to the outbreak, said Kate MacDonald, the CEO of the Ontario SPCA. She would not elaborate on what she meant by human error, but yesterday confirmed to the Star that Newmarket shelter manager Denise Stephenson was fired 10 days ago.  “It was due to protocols breaking down,” she said. “An outbreak like this is containable when protocols are followed.”

Asked Tuesday whether animals were screened before they were admitted, shelter officials said that was one of the protocols being reviewed.  Many shelter volunteers were in tears as they peppered MacDonald with questions as to how the animals might be saved.  “I’ve been here five years,” said volunteer Marilyn Challis as she walked out of the office. “It’s totally unnecessary.”

Francis said he regretted bringing J.J. to the shelter. “There was nothing wrong with him before he came here.” With his boss’s permission to take the day off, Francis was determined to get J.J. back; if the cat was alive, he planned to bring him to live with Francis’ mother in Burlington. Francis, who lives in Keswick, got J.J. from a friend’s litter just before Christmas. When his youngest daughter turned out to be allergic to cats, J.J. was taken to the OSPCA for adoption.

Engineer Jason Claxton, an OSPCA donor, left disappointed with the answers he heard.  “It just seemed like a lot of the answers were canned,” Claxton said. “I did not believe a lot of what they were saying.”  The OSPCA’s spaying and neutering clinic next door to the shelter was still in business Tuesday, with a steady stream of people bringing animals in. The society said walls and doors separated the clinic from the shelter and there was no chance of contamination.

Two security guards patrolled the parking lot entrance, checking for employees’ identification. “I’m pretty pissed off about this,” said Chris Payne of Friends of Forsaken Animals, a cat rescue group. “This is just so wrong and they’re letting people in (to the spaying clinic). Can they 100 per cent guarantee that these animals won’t catch anything?”

Of the euthanasia, she said, “They’re not giving the animals a chance. They’re just wiping the slate clean.”  The society consulted with experts before making its decision, said Cross, adding that employees have been particularly affected by the news.  “They’re sad. They’re really sad,” she said.  “These are the animals they care for every day. They worked really hard to get rid of this fungus.”

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