Hundreds of animals have been sentenced to death following a ringworm outbreak at the OSPCA shelter in Newmarket.
Approximately 350 dogs, cats, rats and other small animals—will be put down over the next two or three days after an attempt to contain the fungal infection failed, said the society’s chief executive officer Kate MacDonald.
“We do not take euthanasia lightly. We are extremely saddened by the situation, but we’re here now and as you’re aware, ringworm is highly contagious,” MacDonald said.
Leanne Tucker, a volunteer dog walker for nine years, said staff and volunteers were told of the mass euthanasia late Monday afternoon and asked to leave the premises.
“It’s horrible,” Tucker said. “There are people in the community who are willing to take these animals home and help them.”
As police and security guards monitored the scene, allowing only OSPCA personnel through Monday night, MacDonald confirmed Newmarket shelter manager Denise Stephenson was fired 10 days ago. “It was due to protocols breaking down,” she said when asked if Stephenson was fired because of the outbreak. “An outbreak like this is containable when protocols are followed.
“No one makes a mistake of this magnitude with intent,” MacDonald said.
Stephenson could not be reached for comment Monday.
Joanna Coote said animals afflicted with ringworm are usually only euthanized if they have other diseases or complications.
Coote, a Toronto veterinarian who worked for the OSPCA at the Toronto Humane Society after the November 2009 raid, said ringworm is a fungal infection that causes small patches of hair loss, skin redness and discoloration. Ringworm can make an animal so itchy they break their skin when they scratch for temporary relief. Ringworm usually starts in one area and multiplies if not treated.
According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California, “ringworm in an animal shelter can lead to almost unmanageable outbreaks.”
Coote said healthy animals can recover from ringworm, although treatment takes “a long time.”
“I would be concerned about what were their criteria for euthanizing a large portion of their population, especially if it was purely based on ringworm. I would hope that there would be other factors, including the fact that they had other disease processes, or that the animal was in some sort of intractable discomfort or quality of life—if the quality of life had really deteriorated,” she said.
On Monday night, the shelter was under lockdown as Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officers went in and out of the building and emotional volunteers waited in the parking lot. “This is unbelievable—how can they kill all the animals,” said one distraught woman who has been volunteering at the shelter for two years. The OSPCA called police and hired a private security firm to monitor the shelter.
Two security guards from IGI Security sat in their SUVs at the entrance of the shelter Monday night. “We have had some individuals declare that they might try to remove the animals,” MacDonald said. “When we hear about that we have to take the appropriate steps to take the shelter secure.” While one shelter employee said the war against ringworm has been raging since March, MacDonald said the shelter has been fighting the outbreak for three weeks.
She said the building was closed on at least one occasion while staff attempted to sanitize the building. Two OSPCA veterinarians who assessed the situation on Monday gave the final call: All of the animals had to die. All adoption activity at the shelter has been suspended.
Humans can catch and carry ringworm, which can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or prescription medication.