World

The Dog is Dead—And We’ll Never Know if He Had Ebola

According to the Centers for Disease Control dogs can carry Ebola without showing symptoms. But hundreds of thousands of people tried to save Excalibur.

10.09.14 9:59 AM ET

ROME, Italy — Excalibur, the mixed breed mutt belonging to Teresa Romero Ramos, the Spanish nurse infected with the deadly Ebola virus, is dead. 

Despite an online petition that garnered more than 400,000 signatures and half a million tweets to try to save the dog’s life, a campaign launched by Romero’s husband Javier Limón from his quarantined quarters in the Carlos III hospital, the dog was euthanized on Wednesday evening in the couple’s apartment in suburban Madrid.

Armed guards kept animal rights activists shouting “assassins” at bay.  The dog, which was never tested for the Ebola virus, was put to sleep before being removed from the locked-down apartment.  The body will be incinerated at a medical waste plant in Madrid. According to Spanish press reports, the dog’s corpse will not be tested for the virus, so no one will ever know whether or not Excalibur had the lethal disease.

Limón told a Spanish radio station that he had left Excalibur alone with 33 pounds of dry dog food and an open water tap dripping into his water bowl after he and his wife were hospitalized on October 6.  The apartment is quarantined but a terrace door was left open so the dog could go outside “to do his business.” 

Despite what might be considered inhumane conditions for the abandoned dog, animal rights groups insisted Excalibur was better off alone in the quarantined apartment than dead.  “It is not fair to have [the] Ebola infection … [and to have] lost the dog for a political decision without foundation, when it would have been much easier to isolate or quarantine as they have done with husband of the victim,” according to the authors of one of two online petitions.  On Thursday, the hashtag  #salvemosaExcalibur had been tweeted more than 500,000 times.  “Executed through ignorance,” one Twitter user wrote.  “R.I.P. Excalibur. Raise Your Paw in Memory,” tweeted another.

The killing of the dog has raised alarm that Spanish officials are reacting with paranoia rather than logic to try to stop the disease.  There have been few credible studies linking the transmission of the virus between animals and humans.  But one study (PDF) by the Centers for Disease Control in the United States found that dogs carrying the virus were asymptomatic and, as such, dangerous to humans because they didn’t appear sick.  “Although dogs can be asymptomatically infected, they may excrete infectious viral particles in urine, feces, and saliva for a short period before virus clearance, as observed experimentally in other animals,” the authors write.  “Given the frequency of contact between humans and domestic dogs, canine Ebola infection must be considered as a potential risk factor for human infection and virus spread.”

Romero’s husband reacted to the killing of his beloved pet with anger and sadness.  He had previously questioned whether sacrificing the dog would mean he was next.  On Wednesday, he had posted an emotional video on YouTube pleading with authorities to save his dog, but it fell on deaf ears.

According to the World Health Organization or WHO 3,879 people have died from the virus out of 8,033 confirmed cases.  Excalibur is the first dog known to have been euthanized because of the virus, but records of any animals killed in the affected African nations because of the virus are not known to be kept.  

Politicians in Spain who have faced criticism for supporting the decision to kill the dog have in turn questioned the meaning behind the fact that one dog’s death has seemingly stirred far more passion than thousands of dead humans.  After news of Excalibur’s demise broke, Spanish politician Edua Madina tweeted: “One dog in Madrid has generated more mobilization and news than thousands of deaths from Ebola in Africa. Something to reflect on.”  Indeed.