A heartbroken woman has been forced to put down her five family dogs after becoming the first person in the UK to be diagnosed with a rare infectious disease.
Wendy Hayes, 61, was left with no choice but to euthanise her beloved pets after they contracted Brucella canis – a bacterial condition which causes aborted pregnancies, stillbirth, and inability to become pregnant – from a Belarusian rescue dog she was fostering.
The infected dog, Moosha, had been with Wendy for just three days before she started aborting her puppies all over the home in a “horrific” experience that lasted 17 hours.
Wendy was initially put on a “stay at home” notice due to a fear of rabies – but both she and the dog were eventually diagnosed with the rare disease two months later.
Human transmission is extremely rare but the grandmother-of-two started to exhibit severe symptoms and remains on antibiotics.
Her dogs Benson, a 13-year-old Jack Russell, Dougie, an 11-year-old Patterdale Cross, Tiny, a four-year-old Pug, and Max, nine, unknown breed, could not be saved – leaving Wendy and her family distraught.
She said: “It felt so unreal, to think about how many people are in the UK, to think that this is the first ever for this type of strain. The doctors were actually quite excited.”
Wendy said she most likely contracted the disease through Moosha’s birthing fluids before the rescue dog was put down.
She was then faced with the heartbreaking reality that she would have to euthanise her own four dogs because they had been living in close contact.
She said: “All five dogs were put down, they were the innocent party in this. I blame this rescue, and I blame the government for letting it happen.
“The impact is devastating. The life went out of the house, it didn’t feel like home. There was a feeling of guilt as it was my choice to bring her into the house. It didn’t feel like a home.”
Wendy said she brought Moosha, believed to be a German Shepherd cross, over through a rescue dog company, which mainly sources stray dogs from Ukraine and Belarus.
Once dogs test positive for Brucella Canis they are infected for life. It is mainly transmitted through a dog’s bodily fluids, including urine, blood and saliva, and in rare cases can be passed on to humans.
Wendy, from Stoke-on-Trent, said she had no option but to have her dogs put down.
She added: “You still feel guilt.
“I had read enough of the infection at this point. I knew that I’d have to do to our dogs.
“I just went into shock, I was sobbing. There was no real choice, there was no real quality of life for them. Benson, Douggie and Max (another foster dog) were positive while Tiny had tested negative but was at a high risk of positive.
“It’s heart breaking to have one dog put down, let alone do it three times over. How do you get over that?”
Wendy said the foster company needed to take more responsibility for testing.
She added: “The company I foster through brought dogs over from Belarus and Ukraine. Two vans brought dogs in from there.
“Within two days of them arriving all the dogs from the Ukraine van had been taken by animal control. We were told it was a paper work issue. Then the story went on and that it was to do with the rabies laws.
“I had Moosha for three days, she came on 20 March before she started aborting her puppies, which was pretty horrific.
“She was literally walking around the house dropping her puppies, there was blood all over the house.
“I managed to get a hold of two of them. Tried to bring it around but it was dead. That is probably when I contracted the disease.
“It was 1am and she woke me up. This went on until half past six at night. I was scrubbing everything, it was a nightmare.
“‘Don’t worry, they’re not like humans, they’re very clean.’ That was from the lady who runs the rescue.
“Two weeks after she lost the pups, trading standards sent me a 21 day notice. It meant she couldn’t leave, she had to stay in my property.
“She lived in my home until the 13 May. I only really felt something was up after I got back from visiting her.”
Moosha was still not known to be carrying the disease at this point, and it only emerged when Wendy sought medical help after feeling unwell.
She added: “I went into hospital on the 23 May. I went to my GP because I felt quite poorly and he sent me straight up to the hospital that day.
“I hadn’t been feeling well before that, but I put it down to stress after Moosha was taken.
“I was moved to the infectious disease ward at Stoke hospital. I didn’t get a diagnosis until Friday because they had a very clued-up doctor, who suggested it was Brucella canis.
“Even though I felt ill, you don’t stop worrying about the dogs.
“I was already in isolation, in infectious diseases you can’t leave your room. It was a tough time, there was no one to talk to.
“They let me out the following Thursday, 2 June but I had the nurses coming out to me for two and a half weeks giving me five lots of anti-biotics.”
In hospital Wendy suffered a high temperature, chills, and shivers, bad shakes, severe headaches, severe back ache and low blood pressure. Because she was immunocompromised the disease hit her harder than it would do for most.
She added: “I am still on two tablets for another three or four weeks.
“It affected my husband and my son. There were so few people, as no one understood the disease.
“I couldn’t have the grandchildren over because of the risk of the bacteria.
“They need to stop messing about and just do something. Make it compulsory for all zoonotic diseases. They boast about being rabies free for years. It’s just around the corner waiting to happen.
“We need testing for it. And we need to come down hard on those bad rescues.”