WATERVILLE — A ringworm outbreak at the humane society last week has resulted in a prolonged closure to the animal shelter as employees continued to expunge the fungal infection from the building, costing the nonprofit shelter thousands of dollars.
Pam Nichols, manager of the Humane Socity Waterville Area, said the results from cultures testing for the disease on several dozen cats and about 18 dogs revealed no further cases of ringworm. Two dogs and 10 cats tested positive last week, according to Nichols.
Shelter officials said last week they hoped to reopen Monday, but now say the continued shutdown is so employees and volunteers at the shelter can continue to clean the cats’ side of the shelter. Kennel officials will administer environmental cultures at the end of the week to be sure the fungal infection is completely removed from the building off Webb Road.
In addition to shutting down and cleaning the entire shelter, the humane society had to have cultures taken for each animal that was at the shelter — about 110 cats and 18 dogs — which cost between $65 to $85 each. Since the fungus can survive on many surfaces, the shelter also had to throw away all of its bedding and supplies for the animals.
Nichols estimated the damage at around $10,000, between the costs for the cultures, the nearly round-the-clock cleaning that has been done and the amount of supplies thrown away.
“Right now we’re relying on donations to stay open,” Nichols said Monday. “But we need to keep it coming.”
Last year, Jane Bird of Waterville adopted an orange tabby cat named Miss Millie from the shelter, and she felt compelled to help this year by donating bedding that was then thrown out because of the fungus. Monday she dropped off some more.
“We had a rummage sale on Saturday and I read that the shelter was looking for donations,” Bird said. “We brought over some blankets, pillows and animal beds.”
The shelter had recouped roughly a quarter of the supplies it had to throw away by Monday afternoon, according to Nichols.
Depending on the environmental cultures that will take place toward the end of the week, accord to Nichols, the shelter hopes to open to the public by next week.
“We see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Nichols said.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that feeds on the outer layer of skin and appears in dime-sized circles on the skin’s surface. It can be passed from animals to humans and thrives on warm, moist skin. Unlike the name suggests, it’s not a worm or parasite. Affected animals are being treated with a bath dip in lime-sulphur along with anti-fungal medication.
On Friday, the humane society sent out a news release explaining the fungal outbreak and that it contacted the state’s Animal Welfare Department for assistance. The shelter is working to isolate the unaffected animals, which will be continually monitored through a two-week process, with multiple tests before the animals are returned to the shelter.
“This is a very difficult time for the shelter,” said Board of Directors Matt Townsend in the Friday release. “We are looking to our members and to the public for assistance in this time of great need. … We are in desperate need of financial assistance. The work we have ahead of us, in treating animals and sanitizing our facility, will put a huge strain on our budget.”
While the shelter is not open to the public, the area animal control officers that work with the humane society are able to bring stray dogs to the shelter, as that area of the building had been cleared, Nichols said.
“The dog area is completely done, but we’re still cleaning up the cat area,” she said.
There are about a dozen cats and a half dozen dogs at the shelter, all under quarantine, Nichols said. The majority of the animals were transported to the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, Nichols said.
The cause of the outbreak, according to Nichols, stemmed from one of two stray dogs that had been left at the shelter overnight with porcupine quills in their mouth along with a letter saying the owner could no longer care for them. In the days following the dogs’ arrival, two dogs and 10 cats tested positive for ringworm.
The two dogs that were left at the shelter are recovering well, Nichols said Monday. However, Buddy, the terrier, was infected with ringworm so Magnum, the Great Dane, is being closely watched.
“They are both recovering well and have been neutered,” Nichols said. “They’ll still be here for another two weeks as we continue to clean the building.”