Tuesday, May 11, 2010

OSPCA, please reconsider

350 dead animals.
Thousands of pissed off members and pet owners.
Another animal welfare organization with its reputation shot.

I hope the OSPCA reconsiders what they are about to do.

Ringworm infestation in a shelter is no walk in the park. It never should have gotten that bad. People royally fucked up. But, the plan to cull all the animals at the York Region OSPCA shelter is like trying to cover up a big pile of crap with a bigger pile of crap.

I don't say this because I think I have easy answers for controlling and quelling ringworm outbreaks in a shelter environment. Everything I've been reading about this from reputable sources tells me that the protocols needed are tough and demanding and some animals can take up to 6 months to be cured if at all. It's not just a matter of rubbing some cream on a few lesions. Nor is it just a matter of getting some nice people to come round and foster the animals for a while until they get better.

The OSPCA is worried about the zoonotic aspect of ringworm. Transference might be rare (I don't know) but it does happen. What if the foster's child picks up the ringworm from the foster cat? The child gets lesions and the parent has to take time off from work to bring the child to the doctor for meds. The other kids in the child's class also need to be told to watch out for lesions and not to touch the child so that they don't get infected. The parent has to disinfect the house from top to bottom because even though the cat has been kept in a cage in the kitchen, the child has been all over. The parent doesn't do such a great job and six months later, the child gets ringworm again. The parent gets pissed off and decides to sue the OSPCA for knowingly fostering out a ringworm infested animal even though he signed a release form.

The OSPCA is also thinking about all the animals that they could be saving but can't because they'd have to keep the York facility closed to intakes for weeks to months while there are ringworm contaminated animals residing there. Sure, they could have protocols in place to try to reduce the spread of infection to new animals but whatever protocols were there obviously didn't work or weren't followed. By wiping the slate clean, they would have the facility disinfected and up and running again in a week or two.

Yes, there are probably other reasons as well why the OSPCA would want to get rid of all the animals at their York facility but unless all the animals there are deathly ill from other underlying diseases, none of these reasons are good enough. These reasons don't balance out the animal lives lost. These reasons don't balance out the human cost. They don't balance out the collective guilt, anger, despair we will all feel knowing that another organization people entrusted to look after the welfare of animals has messed up in such a big way.

There are risks with trying to save animals from a ringworm infested facility. In animal welfare, though, there will always be risks. An adopted out dog might bite, a cat might scratch, a bunny might ... chew on a table leg (?). You do what you can to protect yourself against liability while adopting out as many animals as you can but this isn't just a numbers game.

The currency of animal welfare is compassion. Compassion supersedes risk, supersedes cash flow, supersedes even the logic of numbers. Compassion says you do not kill the old dog in front of you so that some other possibly more adoptable dog can have its cage space. Compassion says you do not euthanize a sick animal simply because it's cheaper to bring in and adopt out healthy ones. Compassion doesn't make sense but you still have to make room for it. Without compassion, it's not an animal welfare facility. It's a factory. People don't donate to factories, they buy widgets from them.

There is a risk with trying to save these sick animals but if the OSCPA doesn't try to save at least some of them, they risk losing the organization's appearance of compassion and once that's gone, they'd better have some pretty fancy widgets to sell.

Update: How you can help.


hopy said...

i'm just horrified and heartbroken about this. i emailed kate macdonald (and her assistant) quoting your second-last paragraph, but in the last year i've never felt more powerless and less able to do anything constructive. all there is to do is despair, it seems.

Laura HP said...

A bunny might kick you in the face...happens more often than you'd think, and damn it hurts.

This has exploded everywhere in the media...I don't really know what to say, I don't know much about ringworm except that it's a crazy pain to treat. I understand that it has spread to several staff workers, but I also know many people who had it as kids and considered it no big deal.

I certainly understand all the reasons they'd do this but I so wish they'd reconsider. Besides of course, all the lives they'd be putting out, does the OSPCA really need another publicity hit? Or for that matter, animal welfare as a whole in Ontario. So many shelters and groups seem to be imploding - we can't have the public turn away from shelters as an option. But with all this negative publicity, I'm sure many people are wondering why they should trust a shelter for their new pet.

I don't know, this whole situation is insane and while there is certainly no perfect answer, I really wish they'd change their minds. It's a sad story made even sadder by the fact that it was caused by humans in the first place.

EV said...

Well said and a very sad story, too. I fostered a family of kittens once who all developed ringworm. I got it too, and yes, it took a little time to get rid of, but it was fine in the end and so trivial in the bigger picture that the thought of euthanizing any animal because of it is shocking, even given the complexities of the situation. It almost seems like they're ignoring the fact that some people ARE prepared to save those animals' lives. Even one would matter.

Meaghan Edwards said...

A very good, balanced entry. If only these animals weren't in the shelter system in the first place :(

On an unrelated note, has anyone else had trouble loggging in through Google? I keep getting a 404 message when I reply.

Lynda said...

I see the THS is all over this story to prove how awful the OSPCA is. Another game to play for both parties, it seems. And in the end - 300+ animals die. That's just f*cking wonderful.
I'm going to go throw up now.

Anonymous said...

Lynda, Bob Hambley is part of the problem if he is not part of the solution, and I don't mean throwing darts at Kate MacDonald, although that still needs to happen.

Any goodwill that the OSPCA had has just gone down the toilet. Clearing out animals every time there's a problem?

How about a real housecleaning, all the way up to anyone in the provincial government who is backing these people's decision.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Lynda..I'm gonna go throw up now


hopy said...

i just posted this to McGuinty. it won't do any good.

Premier McGuinty, I urge you to intervene in the horrible decision made by the OSPCA. The animals they are euthanising have a curable condition that can be cured with some patience, inexpensive medication and a change of environment. There is a freshly-scrubbed, empty shelter in the City of Toronto: as well, other members of the public have offered up space, time and money to help eradicate the infection.

These animals are being killed needlessly. I implore you, Premier, please listen to the voices of so many Ontario citizens who are dismayed and outraged and horrified by this. The Liberal party of Ontario has always presented itself as a voice of compassion and kindness: please uphold these virtues and allow the animals to live.

YesBiscuit! said...

Maybe I'm just talking out my ass here because hell, I don't have to run a shelter so it's easy for me to say what I like. But honestly, and I can't put it any more sincerely than this, there is nothing - nothing on this earth - that would inspire me to kill a friendly, treatable pet. Never mind 350 of them all at once. I truly don't care if these pets have SuperRingworm X - I wouldn't euthanize them unless they were medically hopeless and suffering.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe they are going to euthanize over 350 animals because of ringworm - which is treatable.
I wonder what kind of people are running these shelters. We need more compassionate people running these shelters. I'm horrified.

Anonymous said...

It's a Public Health Issue now.

Who polices these people? We're getting the runaround from Bartolucci, McGuinty, OVMA. Nothing from the ACRB.

Pibble said...

I agree, YesBiscuit. It won't be easy to treat 350 animals with ringworm, and we know it never should have reached these proportions in the first place, but c'mon folks. Can't they even try? We've treated ringworm with lyme-sulfur baths - tedius, time-consuming, and yes, it takes a long time. But at least try!

Anne said...

We have, on 2 rare occassions, had to euthanize an entire colony room of cats that had an outbreak of ringworm (maybe 6-12 cats at most).
Our protocols are pretty firm- we don't treat ringworm, due to the risk of contagion and the zoonoses. By euthanizing one animal when diagnosed, you prevent having to euthanize 350.
We have, in the past, allowed a foster family to treat a litter of kittens that broke with it while in foster (and therefore they were already attached to the animals).
6 month later, after aggressive treamtents, the cats (no longer kittens) still had it (and had suffered from their lack of socialization and handling), the foster mom had it, and both the children had it. End result- all the cats were euthanized anyway and we had a foster home out of commission for the foreseeable future.

That being said, euthanizing the ENTIRE population of animals- that seems extreme. Have animals in every room come down with it? There have to be some rooms that haven't shown exposure. Those animals should be spared, quarantined and monitored

Melanie said...

Fred can you please post this?


Anonymous said...

This is madness!

Ontario has now become a very unsafe place for animals.

VerityConrad said...

Fred - you are a journalistic angel.

I'm going to toss and turn tonight. Where has compassion gone?

I hope that you are well and not working too hard. I know that you were planning on taking some well deserved time for personal things, however I feel that by continuing to use your voice when it matters the most you will help those who are unable to tell their story.

Thanks for everything Fred.


hopy said...

100% agreed with Verity, on all counts. a million thanks for everything, fred.

Social Mange said...

Anne has very valid points. It is one thing to treat one animal; it is another thing entirely to treat 350 animals AND the entire building. I know of one foster home that, at personal expense, had to rip all the carpet out of the house after a ringworm incident, and the foster home was out of fostering for months.

And everyone who's clinging to "waiver" - waivers are not bulletproof.

I'm still shaking my head at Hambley & Co. being given ink. What a bunch'a dweebs. They have an empty, clean building (I hope) and all the "retrained" staff; why didn't THS step up to the plate and take the animals?

Noo, they'd rather get press time and waggle fingers. THS under current board and management continues to be part of the problem and not of the solution.

Anonymous said...

So what have we learned so far?
That the OSPCA is not a humane organization. That their CEO gets $200,000 a year (for what) and does this come out of our donations? That this organization makes all the rules and is accountable to no one.

Local Dog Rescue said...

I've yet to see a media release from the OSPCA attempting to track down the source of the ringworm infection. They believe it was a couple of Himalayan cats that were brought to the shelter. Where did they originate from? Not a lot of Himalayan breeders out there. If the risk of spreading the infection outside the shelter is their justification for killing animals you would think they'd be doing a little more - or something - to track down the source. After all, they do have the largest group of highly-trained animal investigators in Ontario. Sorry, I shouldn't joke. Isn't it their job, after all, to investigate these things?