How can a municipal shelter create a successful, lifesaving ringworm ward — run 100 percent by volunteers, no less? It’s easy, with a little innovation and a lot of determination. That’s exactly what Front Street Animal Shelter (FSAS) in Sacramento, CA, had when they applied for an Innovation Grant with us last year. Their goal was to set up their own “Ringworm Town” on site.
Now, fast-forward to just over a year later. They’ve had 62 kittens “graduate” and are now helping neighboring shelters tackle ringworm!
However, like most success stories, it wasn’t always like that.
“Like a lot of municipal shelters, we used to euthanize kittens with ringworm, up until about three years ago,” said Samantha Burgin, Feline Foster/Rescue Coordinator for FSAS. “This was mostly because we didn’t have the space to house them, or have any fosters who could bring the kittens into their home and treat them.”
It wasn’t until their veterinarian, Dr. Rinaldo, went to a conference where she attended a presentation about ringworm and how to treat it that real changes were made.
“At this point in early 2016, we’d been doing our best to try and treat ringworm better – we’d found a little hole-in-the-wall room to use but it still wasn’t the best,” said Burgin. It was taking a lot of time out of the day for their employees, and they were already understaffed. “So we’d been trying to figure out a better way to do it.”
In addition to attending the conference, FSAS had the San Francisco SPCA come out to teach them, as they have a very successful ringworm ward of their own.
Burgin said of the SF SPCA, “They’ve sort of been our mentors in all of this. We took what they taught us and have created our own ringworm ward here called Ringworm Town. It’s pretty much 100 percent volunteer run. Dr. Rinaldo and I simply oversee it, so they come to us if they have questions.”
Wondering how it all works?
Once a cat is in Ringworm Town, volunteers take over the care of giving medications and twice-weekly sulfur baths. The also socialize them.
“They take care off all of it!” said Burgin. To stay on track, volunteers have a schedule and come in 2-3 times a day.
They currently have about six volunteers on a rotating basis, all of whom are also cat fosters. “Or maybe a foster volunteer had a cat that was treated at Ringworm Town so they want to help and they just can’t have it at their house,” said Burgin. “So we just do a little bit of education if they don’t know how to treat ringworm already. We have protocols in place so they don’t spread it to themselves or animals at home. We haven’t had one issue with that at all since we started.”
Burgin went on to explain that the time spent each week per volunteer depends on how many cats they have that week, and that number can vary. Sometimes they’ll have two, then the next week they might have ten.
“In the morning, it can take a volunteer anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half depending on how quickly they are at cleaning. But volunteers will usually spend more time in there to also socialize the kitties, etc. We have two ladies whose goal is to write down behavior notes about kitties and rotate toys. But they can spend up to 4 hours in there doing a bunch of different things for the cats because they (the volunteers) enjoy it so much!”
They haven’t really promoted it publicly yet, but plan to put on a class in the next few months for more volunteers who are interested, with a training protocol and manual.
FSAS has also been helping other local shelters without ringworm rooms. “We’ll take their cats if we have room, and they’ll take our barn cats as they’re more rural. We sort of trade off in that regard. But we’re hoping to help them set up their own ringworm ward in the future.”
Burgin explained that space is usually an issue or concern for many shelters. “But you honestly don’t need much space, just a small room to put them in. We started out with a modular trailer and now we have an actual room, but it’s only about the size of a closet. We are here to help them if they want it.”
Another barrier she’s heard about revolves around letting volunteers take control. “I can see why they would be hesitant, but if you properly train volunteers and help them as it goes on, it shouldn’t be an issue. It certainly hasn’t been an issue for us.”
So, what do the volunteers think?
“They love it! Oh my gosh, I remember last year at one point all of the cats were going to be out of the room because they were graduating at once, meaning the room would be empty. I could tell the sweet volunteers were sad as they asked, ‘Are we going to get any more?’ They absolutely love it.”
“What’s more, when the cats graduate, we have this little card that we staple to their kennel card that has a purple graduation cap and says they’re a Ringworm Town graduate; and we play the graduation march and move them to the cattery. It’s pretty adorable.”
As for potential adopters, Burgin says they simply let them know the cats have been treated.
“Our cat adoption counselors go over it with them. Most people, especially those with kids are like, ‘Eh, no big deal.’ We haven’t had any backlash from people about not adopting them because they had ringworm.”
Wondering how to get started on your own lifesaving Ringworm Town? Burgin shares her advice. “The biggest thing is that if a shelter is going to take this on, everyone at the shelter has to be on board for it to be successful. They need to at least be supportive of trying it, even if they don’t agree with it.”
She continued, “Ringworm… everyone is scared of it, but it’s seriously not that big of a deal. It’s more annoying then anything. And, most importantly, it’s easily treatable. Even if you don’t have the best place or greatest equipment, you can still treat it. The size of a closet is fine!”
Burgin is happy to answer questions from anyone considering starting their own Ringworm Town. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll connect you.