Unhappy: Silvia Puglisi with a poster of her kitten, Pablito, which was put down in DSPCA care

The DSPCA has apologised after mistakenly destroying a much-loved pet kitten just hours after it was handed in by a member of the public – despite being told that its owners had been found.

"Pablito", a five-month-old male kitten, went missing from its home in Ringsend, Dublin on Saturday 28 August last. Its distraught owners, Silvia Puglisi and Sara Magotti, put up posters in the local area appealing for it to be returned.

A member of the public subsequently found it around lunchtime on Tuesday 31 August and gave it to the DSPCA to be cared for.

But its owners told the Sunday Tribune they were devastated to learn the cat was put down later that day due to a ringworm infection.

"The person that found him called me at 3.30pm on 31 August, then he called the centre at 3.41pm saying the kitten had an owner. The centre assured the person that there was no problem and the kitten was safe," Puglisi said. "I called the centre around 5.40pm. I was told to call the morning after and I was assured that everything would have been all right."

The DSPCA, which successfully rehomes hundreds of cats each year, said Pablito's ringworm infection meant there was a risk of infection to the 170 other cats which it was looking after at the time.

Despite attempts throughout the afternoon to find a suitable temporary home for the kitten among the charity's network of volunteers, its chief executive Jimmy Cahill said this did not prove possible and its other isolation units were all full.

As a result, Cahill said its veterinary team decided it was in the best interests of the wider cat population for Pablito to be put down, along with another ringworm-infected cat which the DSPCA had been unable to find a home for throughout the previous six days.

The DSPCA has launched an internal investigation but has so far been unable to track down who took the call from the member of the public alerting it to the fact that the owner had been traced.

"I apologised to the girls for the hurt this has caused them, but the situation I was faced with was do I risk all these other cats being infected on the basis of one cat which we believed to be a stray?" Cahill said. "Ringworm can be treated but you have to close down the whole centre if there is an infection. I totally understand how they feel and regret that this happened. But this was not done flippantly or lightly. It is traumatic for all of us when we have to put any animal down."

However, Puglisi and Magotti are unhappy with the response of the DSPCA to their case.

"We believe our kitten's welfare and rights were not respected… we believe also the centre has acted against our own interests as we were denied more information about what happened," Puglisi said. "Especially since they have a state- of-the-art cattery, they could easily provide an isolation area for cats who come in and who are contagious while they try to establish if they are somebody's companion."

Cahill said the DSPCA had already commenced construction on three new isolation units for cats.