NEWMARKET, Ont. - The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has decided to stop its plans to euthanize all of the ringworm-infected pets at its shelter in Newmarket, Ont.
The move comes after public outrage over an earlier decision to put down all of the 350 animals.
With the emotional demonstration entering its third day, OSPCA chairman Rob Godfrey announced the euthanization would be stayed and the remaining animals assessed.
"While we will go through and test all these animals to make sure they have not been exposed to ringworm, this is an extremely optimistic day, that those animals will have a fighting chance to survive," Godfrey said.
While 99 animals have already been killed, 96 others have been fostered out before the outbreak. The remaining 140 animals will remain inside the shelter and will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The outbreak has been traced back to an animal that arrived at the shelter on February 27.
Officials said money had nothing to do with the decision to put down the 99 animals. They said those animals were worst-case scenarios and that it was recommended by veterinarians that they be euthanized.
OSPCA officials also admitted that they have to be a better job on two fronts: One, making sure the staff and volunteers are properly trained, and two, communicating to the public.
They said they miscommunicated to the public and the media that all 350 animals would be out down.
Godfrey also said extra security was called in to guard the Newmarket shelter after 15 animals were stolen.
Meanwhile, two protesters outside the shelter were arrested and charged with trespassing.
On Wednesday, some volunteers expressed their anger at what they called unnecessary and drastic measures of putting down infected animals at the shelter.
Staff members were being heckled by protesters as they came and went from the OSPCA. One woman held an orange cardboard sign that read, "What kind of animal shelter is this?"
Animal lovers who gathered at the shelter also hammered small wooden crosses into the ground
Ringworm is a contagious skin fungus that affects animals and humans. If the disease is caught early, it can be treated.
The shelter has been trying to contain the outbreak, but it spread out of control.
OSPCA officials said on Tuesday that healthy animals will not be put down. However, given the aggressive strain, it is highly unlikely an animal inside does not have it.
OSPCA CEO Kate MacDonald said tests are being done on all of the animals, and that the euthanization process has begun for the worst cases.
"Of course, we are not euthanizing an animal that is healthy. It is just unlikely, according to our vets, that there will be a healthy animal inside that facility," MacDonald told reporters.
She said proper protocol was not followed when this infection was first detected about three weeks ago, which allowed it to spread to epidemic proportions.
Tanya Firmage, acting director of animal care at the OSPCA, said this has become a public health issue.
"It is a treatable condition [...] but when we're looking at the number of animals we're talking about, it's now at an epidemic level," Firmage said.
The OSPCA held a meeting with its volunteers, and after, many of them left the building in tears.
On Tuesday, the volunteers shared their stories about the animals they cared for and how frustrated they are that there's nothing they can do to help.
Megan, who has been a volunteer for about one year, said she is desperate to do something to help the animals.
"A bunch of us said that we would put our names down to take animals that came back testing negative, and they said that's not possible," Megan told 680News.
This issue has become an emotional one for many people. Some high school students even skipped class to protest at side of the road, across the street from the shelter. They chanted "stop the murder" and held signs.
OSPCA officials said they have received e-mails and phone calls of a threatening nature from people.
Toronto Humane Society spokesperson Ian McConachie told 680News they've called on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to launch an investigation into this unprecedented situation.
"Ringworm is treatable, it's nothing that's easy to get rid off, it does require some effort," Ian McConachie said. "I think a better solution can be found, rather than euthanizing all these animals."
It could be a few weeks until the shelter is completely sterilized and reopened.