Ohio working to prevent spread of incurable dog disease

Some dogs are catching an incurable disease after living with breeders. The state is trying to clean up the practice so Brucellosis cases become less common. (WSYX/WTTE)

Animal advocates are demanding that the state of Ohio put information about every Ohio dog breeder online. They say it's about transparency. They're worried about a particularly contagious and incurable disease that could be brought home with a new puppy.

Janet DiQuattro-Roth and her husband Michael brought their Great Pyrenees Harley home as a puppy. "He was about 10 to 12 weeks old," said Janet. He was very little. He was a little fluff-ball."

She said he fit right in with their other dogs. But as Harley began to grow, they noticed a problem.

"He kind of looked like an old man struggling to get up," she said. He would park his behind on a couch or chair and stand awkwardly.

It took months of tests and a trip to the Ohio State University Veterinary Clinic before the Roths got the devastating diagnosis. Harley was suffering from a canine version of Brucellosis.

"I said, 'I don't even know what that is. I've never heard of it,'" said Janet.

Brucella Canis is a disease caused by a bacteria. It primarily affects reproductive organs of male and female dogs. It causes infertility and miscarriages. And it's incurable.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, it "has become more prevalent in Ohio."

In May, the H.S.U.S. released its list of what it describes as 100 problem dog breeders. Twelve are in Ohio. ABC6/Fox28 visited four.

None would give us a tour, including one breeder who'd sought advice from the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association before declining.

"Oh I don't want anybody in my kennels. I talked to the association and they said for sure don't allow anyone in," he said. The man explained that it was for "health reasons," for the dogs and for the reporter.

The 2013 Commercial Dog Breeders Act required Ohio to create the Commercial Dog Breeding Advisory Board. They are supposed to advise the Director of Agriculture on the development of administrative rules governing high-volume breeders and dog retailers. Those are breeders that produce at least nine litters of puppies, and sell at least 60 dogs a year.

"We are cleaning up high-volume dog breeders for Brucellosis," said State Veterinarian Tony Forshey.

Forshey chairs the board. He said Brucellosis is dangerous, and not just for dogs.

"The bad thing about any of the Brucellosis is that they are zoonotic. By zoonotic I mean that it's transmissible between animal and man and man back to animal," he said.

That's another reason it's so important to prevent its spread.

"It was my goal when we started this program to eradicate Brucella Canis within a five year period, which was pretty aggressive. But I thought we could get it done," he said.

The program he referred to includes testing.

"We require these high-volume dog breeders to have a veterinarian and must develop and write a health plan for them. He's required to do physical exams on dogs annually and test for Brucella annually. We've cleaned up many of them now," he said.

About one-half-of-one-percent of breeding dogs now test positive for Brucella Canis, out of approximately 330 high-volume dog breeders in the state.

"We have six or eight of those that are certified Brucellosis-free. They've gone through two years of negative tests. And we've tested to point a little over 30,000 dogs since our program's been in place," said Forshey.

Animal advocates think that's good, but not good enough. They want every bit of information the stat keeps about each high-volume dog breeder to be made available to the public online. They say it's necessary to people buying puppies can be better informed.

"We should be able to see who all the dog breeders are and where they're at, how they're doing, how many they're producing and so forth," said Zaron Van Meter, an animal advocate and dog rescuer from Holmes County.

Forshey promised to take that request to the Agriculture Director.

In the meantime, Forshey pointed out that Brucella testing is required only by Ohio high-volume dog breeding operations. It's not required of mom and pop breeders. Nor is it required of out-of-state breeders.

Forshey said if someone is buying a puppy that's being shipped to Ohio from another place, it's necessary to inquire about the puppy's parents. "If you're buying a puppy, find out if the parents have been tested," he said.

The Roths never knew Harley's parents. But they now know he inherited a terrible disease from them.

It became increasingly difficult for the Roths to watch Harley deteriorate.

"He was two years old. He was a baby. But you can't let your animal suffer," said Janet.

So they made the gut-wrenching decision to let him go. They hope Harley will serve as a warning to anyone wanting a puppy, that Brucella Canis is a killer.

"The more we can find out about this disease and the more we can do to make it preventable, and do something about it, absolutely, the better off our dogs are and we are, for our dogs. Because no dog should go through what Harley went through. Absolutely not," said Janet.

Dogs infected by Brucellosis can show signs of lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, and can have difficulty walking. Females can have miscarriages or give birth to sick newborns.

The symptoms of infection in people are similar to the flu: fevers, chills, weakness, fatigue.

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