OSPCA fundraiser cancelled over protests

This Sunday was supposed to be a day of celebration for the York Region OSPCA.

But with 99 animals euthanized following a ringworm outbreak, the City of Richmond Hill confirmed that the shelter’s walk-a-thon has been cancelled. Demonstrators have decided to hold a funeral march in its place.

“We would like people to show up with empty animal carriers, collars and leashes, and wearing black clothes, just like a funeral,” said organizer Christine O’Neill.

On Monday, OSPCA officials said 350 dogs, cats and small animals had to be put down to stop a virulent ringworm “epidemic.”

As public outcry grew, OSPCA chairman Rob Godfrey confirmed that 20 animals would be saved. By Wednesday night, 99 animals had been euthanized, 155 were still in the shelter, and 96 were in their foster homes. Testing will continue in the next few days.

“There are a lot of things that are regrettable in this, aside from the obvious,” Godfrey said. “One of the regrettable things is that somehow the communication got out there that 350 animals would be euthanized. That’s just not the case.”

While officials met with veterinarians on Wednesday, furious demonstrators shoved placards against the windows of departing vehicles, screaming “murderer,” and “How do you sleep at night?” One man brought a trunkload of miracle three-day ringworm cure, others openly wept.

Two people were given trespassing tickets and, by nightfall, more infractions were expected as protesters tried to block staff from leaving in their cars. Angry animal lovers also called police to complain that the euthanizations were acts of animal cruelty.

An employee who worked at the shelter during the outbreak says the issue isn’t simple.

The man, who left for other reasons, said if the shelter had the resources to treat the animals, it would have to close for several months, preventing staff from helping strays that come off the streets almost daily.

The former employee said the outbreak at the shelter began in early April, after staff found a cat, believed to be a long-haired Himalayan, with bald patches and scaly skin.

The animal was put into isolation and staff tried to disinfect the building with a bleach solution and a fungicide. Meanwhile, all the animals were treated with a specialized dip. Several animals with severe lesions were put down in an attempt to curb the growing epidemic. But the infection continued to spread.

“It was one step ahead of everybody,” he said.

On Wednesday, pet food and supply retailer Pet Valu cut ties with the shelter, pending “further review.”

Julie Johnston, vice-president of marketing, said Pet Valu’s sponsorship of the Newmarket OSPCA is predominantly event-based, and doesn’t constitute a “significant amount” of money.

“Our store was going to be there (Sunday) with a banner saying ‘We support you,’ but we don’t support this,” she said. “We don’t know enough about it to make any more of a statement.”

Godfrey understands it is an emotionally charged time.

I personally would be happy to speak to any donor to let them know the situation. . . . I certainly hope that this one incident — and I don’t mean it’s a small incident — will take away from all the good the organization does throughout the province.”

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