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36 Cats Put to Death Because of … Ringworm? Seriously?

A shelter had an outbreak of a treatable disease, and management decided the only solution was euthanasia -- and then blamed the community.

 |  Apr 15th 2014  |   113 Contributions


Imagine this: You run a fairly good-sized shelter and there’s a never-ending supply of cats needing homes. Unfortunately, one or more of the kitties you just took in is diagnosed with ringworm -- and, of course, now every cat who has been near the sick one has now been exposed. You know ringworm is ridiculously contagious, especially among very young and very old cats, and the stress of shelter life can make any cat more susceptible to the disease. What do you do?

This kitten came to Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue in Colorado with ringworm, and guess what? They didn’t kill him! In fact, the little guy has since found a home. Photo CC-BY Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

Most shelters would quarantine the affected cats and possibly even close the shelter while decontamination is taking place. But not the York County SPCA: it decided the only solution was to put 36 cats to death. After all, there’s only room for 90 cats in the quarantine ward and 120 cats were exposed before the ringworm was detected.

I was freaking gobsmacked when this story came across my news feed. Then I was furious.

Fox 43 TV reports that the decision “created a lot of negative feedback from the community.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Mr. Figment here had ringworm that he acquired in the shelter. Shockingly (or not), his owner decided not to have him put down because hey, there’s treatment for that! Photo CC-BY-SA Romana Klee

York County SPCA Executive Director Melissa Smith said it took them 12 days to make the decision to kill the 36 cats who drew the short straw in the life-and-death lottery, and it was done after a great deal of consultation with staff vets and the management team.

Look, I know ringworm is a pain in the ass, especially in a shelter environment. While I was volunteering at HART of Maine, we had two ringworm outbreaks. Rooms were quarantined. All cat trees and bedding were thrown away. Volunteers had to wear gowns, caps, masks, gloves and booties to go into those rooms and feed the cats, clean, and deliver medications. And we had to leave as soon as we finished dealing with the quarantined rooms so there was no chance we’d spread it to the other cats. There were several rounds of lime-sulfur dips for each cat affected.

Treating ringworm is labor-intensive. It involves medicated baths and repeated lime-sulfur dips, but it can be done. Photo CC-BY ilovebutter

No, it’s not fun. Yes, it is hard work.

But here’s the thing: HART managed to do this on a small staff consisting entirely of volunteers who were able to come in for a few hours once or twice a week. With an actual staff of caretakers, it seems to me that even though it’s labor-intensive, there’s no excuse to sentence cats to death for a condition as easily treatable as freaking ringworm!

When I hear stories like this, I do try to give the benefit of the doubt. But there’s no benefit and no doubt here: This was absolutely the wrong choice.

This was my reaction when I first heard this story. Photo CC-BY Ganesha Balunsat

What’s worse is that instead of actually taking responsibility for levying a death sentence on 36 cats, shelter director Melissa Smith went and fobbed the blame off on the community with a statement along the lines of, “If you people would only spay and neuter your pets, we wouldn’t be forced to do this.”

I guess that like PETA, they hate to do it but they just have to be the ones to do society’s dirty work, and it’s all our fault that they do.

What do you think? Given the context of the situation, was this the right thing to do, or are you as furious as I am? If you had been there, would you have tried to be part of the solution? How? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

I'm trying to imagine a legitimate excuse for what the York County SPCA did, but I'm coming up empty. Photo CC-BY Belal Khan

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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