BILLINGS - Dog owners will want to pay close attention and maybe place a call to their vet because the state's veterinarian is tracking a rise in canine brucellosis.
The Montana Department of Livestock started to notice the rise in recent years, although officials say the disease has been around in Montana since roughly the year 2015.
More than 100 dogs have tested positive for the disease so far this year. But several years ago, that number was less than 10.
The rise is alarming for area animal shelters and rescue operations like Dog Tag Buddies, which pairs dogs with veterans to help treat invisible injuries.
“I can't take the risk of bringing in a dog who's potentially infected,” said DeeDe Baker, who founded the organization and serves as the executive director.
It’s a problem because Dog Tag Buddies gets its dogs from a variety of places.
“Primarily we try to work with shelters and rescues, and we also have owners that will relinquish dogs upon occasion, as well as breeders that will donate,” said Baker.
The disease usually means a dog will be put down. And even worse, it can spread to humans.
“It's kind of the same impact on dogs that it has on cattle, where they can abort the fetuses will fail to thrive, only tend to transmit it to other animals, they can transmit it to humans,” said Merry Michalski with the Department of Livestock.
Michalski says those positive cases are linked to Montana’s largest cities and reservations, specifically Valley and Roosevelt counties, near Fort Peck. Most are found in intact stray dogs.
Those with the Department of Livestock also say it's often spread through dog breeding, though it can be passed from dog to dog through nose and mouth contact or blood.
There is no cure or vaccine for dogs, and experts recommend dogs be euthanized or are subject to a life in isolation through quarantine.
Neither is a good option, something Baker knows well after a case of canine brucellosis fell into the lap of the nonprofit recently.
“The dog was a year and a half,” said Baker. “Really super nice dog started experiencing some issues and the veteran who had already been paired with took him into the veterinarian and they did a CT scan thinking maybe he had something going on. They weren't sure and, in the process, found out that this dog was a carrier of canine brucellosis.”
Now Baker says she’s forced to consider every impact on her organization considering the rise in cases.
“I can't take the risk of bringing in a dog who's potentially infected,” she said. “There's a huge monetary impact. There's also the other impact of how these impacts of veterans.”
It’s a predicament many animal shelters and rescue operations have had to come to terms with.
Trinit Halverson with the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter says the nonprofit follow recommendations for shelters laid out by the University of Wisconsin Shelter of Medicine Program and says they only test if there are clinical signs.
“Since the testing for C.B. is so sensitive, routine testing would result in a large amount of unnecessary euthanasia,” she said.
But Baker recommends testing be done more often to keep dogs and humans safe and protect organizations like hers.
“You know, we're trying to do the best we can and not create new trauma for veterans and here I've just created a whole new set of traumas by saying this dog has brucellosis,” she said. “I can't take the risk of bringing in a dog who's potentially infected.”