'Miscommunication' caused euthanization scare: SPCA
The chairman of the Ontario SPCA says that it was a "miscommunication" which led the public to believe that 350 animals would be euthanized as a result of a ringworm outbreak at a York Region animal shelter.
Rob Godfrey told the media at a news conference Thursday morning there will be "no mass euthanasia" and that the OSPCA will hold an internal investigation into the incident.
"We miscommunicated to you the public about how many animals had to be euthanized," he said. "We will undergo a full investigation…and will make the report available to the public and with full transparency."
Godfrey said the number of infected animals is, in fact, far less than the 350 that were initially reported.
About 90 animals were sent to foster homes before the first case of a mild ringworm outbreak on Feb. 22, he said. Those animals have been tested and so far, they are clear but until the results came back, they had to be included in the overall number of possible infected pets.
The OSPCA has euthanized 99 animals so far, said Godfrey.
"Those animals have been done so on veterinary advice, not executive decisions, not by myself or chief executive officer Kate McDonald," he said.
He said 15 animals have been stolen from the shelter after staff discovered that some of the pets could be euthanized.
"Once animals were taken, we instituted measures to bring in security," he said.
About 140 animals are currently at the shelter and are currently being tested for the affliction. Godfey said there is "reason for hope and optimism."
The news conference comes as protesters lined up outside the Newmarket shelter where the animals are being kept. There has been a huge backlash from the public after it was revealed that the OSPCA planned to take the advice of experts and contain a ringworm outbreak by euthanizing all animals inside the shelter.
The protests have been angry and emotional as animal lovers have accused the OSPCA of making a rash decision.
"I've been a supporter for many years and they're not getting any of my money anymore, not if they can make a decision like this," said protester Eva McDowell.
Godfrey stopped short of apologizing during the news conference but said he knows the OSPCA is a public trust that answers to protesters, elected officials and all Ontario taxpayers.
"We heard the outcry loud and clear and that's part of the reason why we're here today," he said.
Even Queen's Park got involved on Wednesday with a heavy debate.
MPP Frank Klees, who represents the area where the shelter is located, called on the Liberal government to stop animals from being put down. Markham's city council has also asked Queen's Park to intervene.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty said he would back the advice given by experts and veterinarians.
Klees called the development "good news" and thanked Godfrey for his leadership.
He said legislative changes need to be made to narrow the gap governments have over agencies. He supported the idea of an OSPCA investigation but said the provincial government should have a role in it.
"We have learned some lessons," he said.
Logistical, financial nightmare
A Toronto veterinarian called the euthanization of animals "a tragedy" but warned that getting rid of the ringworm outbreak at the shelter will be a "logistical and financial nightmare."
Dr. Michael Belovich told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday that it's not easy to determine which animals have been infected because not all diseased pets will have visible lesions. He said adopting out animals that could be potentially sick could cause a human outbreak of ringworm.
"It's a really big tragedy that these animals have to be put down but it's also a big concern about getting (the problem) into the human health population," he said. "Once you get the organism and start developing lesions, then you could start developing secondary infections."
Belovich said that all animals would need to be isolated and tested multiple times for about 21 days. During that time, if they are infected, they could spread the disease to the other animals around them and people treating them.
Cats with long hair would have to be shaved and in many cases given an anesthetic. They would then have to be bathed or dipped at least once a week during treatment.
Animals would have to get at least two negative results to be declared disease-free.
Plus, Belovich added, the environment would have to be thoroughly decontaminated.
"It can get into the ventilation, especially when there are multiple animals," he said. "It's spread by spores and the spores can last in the environment for up to 18 months," he said.
"It's a logistical nightmare, it's a financial nightmare and it's a huge health concern," he said.
But the Toronto Humane Society doesn't agree.
In fact, they are asking the OSPCA to identify which veterinarians and outside experts inspected the animals and recommended the mass euthanasia.
"Ringworm is a treatable fungal skin infection and should never be the sole reason for euthanizing an animal," THS President Bob Hambley said in a news release Thursday. "Those responsible for making these decisions need to be held to account and explain themsleves and the reasoning for their actions."
The THS is also demanding that the OSPCA disclose the name of the strain of ringworm and where they conducted the testing.
Hambley blasted the OSPCA for euthanizing 100 animals, saying that it is not "an acceptable animal care practice."
"The Ontario SPCA has failed to protect animals in this case by allowing a ringworm outbreak to run rampant in their shelter and their responding euthanasia of many of these animals."
The OSPCA and the THS have had a long-standing fued over the issue of euthanasia. The Humane Society does not advocate the practice.
Their dispute came to a head late last year after the OSPCA raided the THS' River Street shelter after a months-long investigation into animal cruelty at the shelter. Eight senior THS employees, including former president Tim Trow, were eventually arrested and charged with animal cruelty.