Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tick Fever

The past few weeks have been trying, painful, and potentially life-threatening for Fugoso. A few weeks ago, he returned from one of his typical evening strolls - visiting other dogs/competing with other males for the right to mate with the village female - with a deep wound on the bottom-half of his front right leg. Thinking that it was merely an innocent cut, I didn't think too much of it. Not until he started behaving strangely, not acting himself. He refused to eat. He slept all day. He didn't bark at other dogs. He didn't follow me out of the Mission. He kept his head down. He could hardly stand for more than five seconds without falling back down again. He was visibly very sick.

At first, I thought that he was bit by a rabid dog, the deep wound on his right leg as proof. Being the concerned father and owner that I am, I had a Mbale veterinarian rush out to Kachumbala to take a look at him. The veterinarian diagnosed him as not having rabies, but rather tick fever.

Tick fever? How could he have tick fever when he wears a tick repellant collar daily, and is washed with a tick/flea repellant shampoo every 3-4 days?

Apparently, all it took was the bite of one infected tick for the disease to spread.

Tick fever, or ehrlichiosis, is a tick-borne disease of dogs caused by the organism Ehrlichia canis. Dogs get ehrlichiosis from the brown dog tick, which passes an ehrlichia organism into the bloodstream when it bites. Minor symptoms include fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite. The disease stays with the dog for the duration of its life, if left untreated.

The veterinarian promised to return to Kachumbala the following day to administer the treatment (injections). He never came, nor did he bother to call. I was enraged. Here, my dog hasn't eaten in 4+ days, having probably lost 1/4 of his weight, and the vet can't even bother (nor have the decency) to call me.

Frantic, I make my way into Mbale to the animal pharmacy the next morning, demanding to know from the vet why he failed to show. His answer? He needed a break from work. Oh, okay. Livid, dissatisfied, and refusing to leave, I caused enough verbal commotion at the pharmacy - Ugandans generally avoid confrontation - to get a different vet to come back with me to Kachumbala to administer the injections.

All the vet told me was that he would give Fugoso three injections: one to treat the symptoms of tick fever, another to increase his appetite back up (having not eaten in days), and an antibiotic. What the vet failed to inform me, however, was that the antibiotic would render Fugoso immobile. He legitimately couldn't move or walk for the next 48 hours. The next 48 hours happened to be last weekend, Uganda Martyrs' Day, when hundreds of people would make their way to/camp out at the Mission to honor the 22 Catholic martyrs who sacrificed their lives for religious freedom. Of course my luck would have it that the one day there'd be 2,000+ people at the Mission was the same day Fugoso could barely walk.

In the early morning of Martyrs' Day, I found Fugoso camped out in my backyard, sleeping in the middle of a field where the celebrations were to take place. I repeatedly tried moving him back to my room so that he wouldn't disturb the celebrations, nor would mobs of children disturb him. No such luck. Everytime I tried carrying him, he yelped in pain. I even tried rolling him over a tarp, and carrying the tarp to my room. He refused to move. I felt helpless. So I did what any other owner, concerned for his dog's life, would do: I sat with him for 7+ hours, throughout the entirety of the celebrations, to ensure that he wasn't disturbed, stepped on, or stoned. Luck would again have it that Fugoso allowed me to carry him back to my room immediately after the celebrations concluded.

Despite rendering him temporarily immobile, the injections successfully treated him. Fugoso is now eating, barking, begging, chasing children, and back to his usual stubborn (which he got from his owner) self.

If anything, the experience has made me feel more guilty and worried about leaving him behind come October. Because if he were to get tick fever again after I'm gone, the disease would likely be left untreated, and he'd have it for the rest of his life.