Ebola, Dogs and a Difference of Opinions

Why is an American dog exposed to Ebola able to be quarantined when a Spanish dog is euthanized? Looking at the different responses in America and Spain can make dog owners wonder what's behind both reactions.

By | Posted: October 20, 2014, 3 p.m.

After Teresa Romaro contracted Ebola when she helped treat a Spanish priest who succumed to the disease after a trip to Sierra Leone, Madrid authorities swiftly euthanized her dog Excalibur. Despite 350,000 signatures protesting Madrid's decision, and protestors attempting to form a human blockade against the van, Excalibur was put down as a preventative measure. Read more about Excalibur here>>

Ebola dog 

Yet, Bently, Nina Pham's one-year-old King Charles Spaniel, is receiving the exact opposite treatment Excalibur has, CBS News reports. Mike Rawlings, mayor of Dallas explained the city will do everything it can to keep Bently as comfortable and as safe as possible during the dog's quarantine including giving it toys to play with and a comfortable bed.   

Balancing Public Safety with Science and Public Opinion

Since public officials in the United States and Spain likely have limited experience treating and quarantining dogs with Ebola, procedures to deal with them are not well defined. "These are both very new situations, so I don’t think either country had a protocol developed ahead of time,” explains Tara C. Smith, Ph. D, Associate Professor of the Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences, and Epidemiology at Kent State University's College of Public Health. "I think the US decision was probably influenced by the public outcry to what happened in Spain. There was an international petition.........asking for mercy for Excalibur. Ultimately he was still put down and I think that was really upsetting to many people.”

Another potential reason for the quarantine is that U. S. authorities might have more to consider than Spanish authorities when balancing the need for public health safety with the interests of Pham and the life of Bently. As Minnesota Public Radio questioned the property rights of Thomas Duncan, in Pham's case, the city of Dallas might be taking a second look at due process laws. Before she can be permanently deprived of ownership of her dog, recognized as property under U. S. law, the city of Dallas might only quarantining Bently, not automatically euthanizing the dog.  However, Dallas officials are equally balancing Pham's rights against the threat her dog might pose to public health. This was done in part because according to Smith, we simply don't know enough about dogs, Ebola and how the virus may or may not transmit.

"The dog issue is a complicated one when it comes to Ebola. We don’t have any really good studies to tell us if dogs can transmit the Ebola virus to humans. Spain took the action they thought was most prudent, and the US is doing the same by keeping the dog alive but isolated,” Smith says.

As the CDC's website states there have been no cases of dogs (and cats) having the capability of spreading it to other animals or humans, even throughout Africa, there have been no reports of animals  becoming sick.

Smith says while there has been one study that has proven dogs haven been exposed to Ebola, they don't become symptomatic. She stresses that the only way to determine what is the right type of treatment for Bently and future dogs exposed to Ebola to balance public safety with dog owners and their dog's interests is to study the problem more.

"What we do have are studies that were done after an outbreak was over, which shows that many dogs (up to 30%) have antibodies to Ebola—meaning they were exposed to the virus, but recovered. They don’t seem to get sick from it, unlike humans. If they can spread it without symptoms, that could make them a dangerous reservoir for the virus, so keeping them isolated from people or, worse case scenario, euthanizing them, would seem to be justified. But right now we just don’t know if they can or not.”

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