Friday, May 13, 2011

Protesters Revisit OSPCA Shelter One Year After Mass Euthenasia

We will never forget.

That’s the message protesters are working to get across during today’s vigil at the York Region branch of the OSPCA on Woodbine Avenue, east of Newmarket.

Unlike last year, when the atmosphere was loud and angry, today was about silent mourning.  “Last year, we migrated here out of instinct, hoping we weren’t too late to stop (the euthanization),” said Cynthia Peroff, who protested at the same spot a year ago.  Today, she was clad in black, standing alongside one of the 102 white crosses along the shoulder of the road. “Those animals won’t come back. This is more of a remembrance,” she added.

The crosses are meant to bring home the number of animals put down during last year’s ringworm outbreak. When you see it, you realize each one represents an animal’s body,” Ms Peroff said. “This is everything (the OSPCA) could get to before we could stop them.” More than 70 people are expected to take part in today’s vigil. “We want to bring the OSPCA back into the spotlight,” Reform Advocates for Animal Welfare founder and vigil organizer Lynn Perrier said. “(The OSPCA) has not been accountable. They have not explained what happened. This is a tribute to those animals. Someone has to remember those animals who were needlessly lost.”

For mourner Nasim Mansour, the vigil was about paying tribute to pets that would never be adopted. “Those animals ended up like garbage in the corner,” she said. “They were never given the chance to be a part of someone’s family, like my cat is a part of mine.”  Last year, after what was described as a virulent strain of ringworm swept through the centre and 102 animals were euthanized, the centre closed and commenced a $250,000 renovation, which includes a new hospital-grade floor, education centre, workshop, training space, pet spa and grooming area. “This is not a protest or a rally,” Ms Perrier said of today’s event. “Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of those animals. They would have all been in happy homes by now.”

While no grand re-opening ceremony is planned, the centre has been operating for about a month, spokesperson Alison Cross said. “We wanted to make sure we were up and running first,” she said. “Things have to be operational first. A grand opening is not off the table.”

Ms Perrier agreed. “It’s obvious nothing can get done until we get a government that has respect for animals,” she said. “Until then, we’ll be out there fighting.” Some believe the quiet opening was was planned. “They hope we will go away,” Ms Perrier said. “They don’t want the publicity. We will not disappear. It has always been our contention that it was easier to kill the animals to complete the renovations. Ringworm was just an excuse.”

The ringworm outbreak led to an independent investigation, headed by former University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College Dean Dr. Alan Meek and former Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Patrick LeSage. Last May, OSPCA board chairperson Rob Godfrey said the investigation should take two or three months.
The report still isn’t complete. 

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February 2010 – one of the first cases of ringworm is discovered at the shelter. The shelter closes;
March – Shelter re-opens after ringworm infestation, only to be closed twice more;
May 6 – Testing of contamination returned negative;
May 10 – Shelter set to re-open, but testing shows it is still contaminated, making this the third case of ringworm there. Shelter management decides to euthanize 350 dogs, cats and other animals to control the outbreak;
May 11 – The planned euthanization of 350 animals is leaked to the public, resulting in protests and demonstrations. Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees calls on the province to intervene until a comprehensive investigation is completed and all other alternatives exhausted;
May 14 – OSPCA announces 102 animals were euthanized, 96 were sent to foster clinics for quarantined care, 91 cats and 23 dogs are still being tested for ringworm and 15 animals were stolen from the shelter. The ringworm outbreak is now presented as a public health risk;
May 28 – Expected date to announce the investigations team;
June 3 – Ontario Veterinary College provided a short list of qualified candidates willing to take on the ringworm investigation;
June 26 – Adoption blitz at the centre, about 60 cats ready for immediate adoption after a second ringworm culture tests proved negative.
June 25 – Adoption blitz cancelled. The OSPCA cited public, staff and animal safety concerns;
June 27 – All other animals fostered out during the ringworm outbreak test negative for ringworm;
July – The shelter notifies Aurora, which contracts the shelter for the town’s animal services, licensing and animal control, the cleaning and contamination process is complete and the shelter is undergoing minor repairs;
– Aug. 9 – The OSPCA announces former University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College Dean Dr. Alan Meek and former Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Patrick LeSage will head the independent investigation for the ringworm outbreak;
October – Mr. Klees re-tables his motion for the provincial government to review the powers and authority of the OSPCA. During the preceding months, he collects thousands of signatures calling for provincial oversight of the organization;
Nov. 18 – Mr. Klees’ motion is defeated 24-17;
March 23, 2011 – The shelter hosts an open house showcasing its renovated animal centre. The OSPCA York Region is no longer an animal shelter, but an animal education centre. Renovations cost about $250,000;
April – The animal centre opens to the public;
May 11– One year anniversary of the mass euthanization. Protesters gathered to honour the 102 euthanized animals.