On Monday, the Ontario SPCA announced that more than 350 dogs, cats and other homeless pets at its York Region Animal Shelter would be euthanized due to a virulent ringworm infection that has already infected six staff members.
(Ringworm on a human arm; Credit: CDC)
Pressure from Provincial Parliament member Frank Klees, other authorities and the public has caused the shelter to reevaluate some cases, but the killings were scheduled to begin yesterday. Emotions continue to run high. Security guards now stand in front of the shelter to prevent individuals from attempting to rescue the animals.
Rod Godfrey, the chairman of the Ontario SPCA, told The Globe and Mail (Toronto) that "protocols"
for identifying contagious conditions were not followed.
He said that when the infection was first identified, the affected animals were not isolated. The shelter's manager has since been fired.
The shelter has about 300 cats, 60 dogs, and other assorted animals, including rabbits and turtles. It is my understanding that only turtles have been taken off the euthanization list. On Tuesday, after public pressure, some 20 other animals were deemed treatable.
The Ontario SPCA issued an advisory stating that if you recently adopted an animal from the York Region Animal Shelter, you and the animal could be at risk for ringworm. They suggest that you visit a doctor and take your pet to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that can cause fur loss and patches of dry, scaly skin. As the name suggests, it often looks like a colored ring on the skin. Some strains are more virulent than others.
Maureen Anderson, a University of Guelph infectious disease expert, said in a university blog that ringworm can be treated "but it is not cheap or easy.
Animals typically require systemic therapy (usually oral medication,
which can be very expensive particularly in large dogs) as well as
whole-body topical therapy … and they need to be treated for several
Even without an infection outbreak, economic considerations alone have impacted many shelters. I've seen a domino effect at countless shelters and other animal rescue facilities. Many people can no longer afford to keep their pets, or must move out of a housing arrangement that allows them to keep animals. These pets wind up at shelters, which are already strapped for space and cash.
One way to cut corners is to reduce the amount of time that a shelter is required to hold a stray animal.
The situation in Canada is particularly dramatic, but you might be surprised by the number of animals that are euthanized at shelters that don't have a no-kill policy. And even the no-kill shelters are quite selective about the animals they take in, with the rejects often winding up at the other facilities. Data concerning the number of animals at U.S. shelters, as well as those euthanized, is at this Humane Society page.