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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.

JaneA Kelley  |  Apr 15th 2014


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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read stories of rescue on Catster:

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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