A filthy inner-city alleyway that looks like any other entwining the central district of a major city is the place where a grief-stricken dog owner believes his support dog contracted a rare and deadly virus which killed her.
Nine-year-old Bu had walked the Darlinghurst alleyway in inner-Sydney twice a day for over a year because it backed onto the apartment block where she lived with her owner, Allan Quinnell.
“It’s always had rats in it and a prolific number of rats,” Mr Quinnell told Yahoo News Australia.
“The number of rats [in that] alley were [of] plague proportions.. Rubbish was overflowing from bins and left like that, in many cases, for days.”
The Darlinghurst alleyway in central Sydney is one of a number of locations in the area where vets, dog owners and animal health experts believe has become prime breeding ground for leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis – also known as lepto – is a rare disease typically confined to tropical regions. But Sydney vets have been baffled to find local dogs testing positive for the disease – with it proving fatal in at least seven cases.
“The only time that Bu ventured anywhere near where rats were habituating was in that alleyway,” Mr Quinnell said.
“You would walk down the laneway and there would be rats jumping out.”
Before Bu’s death last week, the retired fire-fighter, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and had relied on his dog for medical reasons, had become so fed up with the state of the laneway he had taken photos he intended to send to the City of Sydney Council.
The images show food and other waste spilling from wheelie bins as well as dumped rubbish including two mattresses and even an oven.
“Council need to clean up their act. The rubbish that was left laying around was disgraceful,” Mr Quinnell told Yahoo News Australia.
“I don’t want to see any other dogs die. I don’t want to see anybody going through what I’m going through.
“I’ve lost my girl and, you know, she meant the world to me and now I’m without that support”.
“I’m shattered by it... I’m just struggling with the whole thing. I feel like Bu died needlessly.”
The highly contagious, fatal disease, which can also be passed to humans, is spread through animals coming into contact with stagnant water, often found in puddles infected with rat or mice urine.
At least seven Sydney dogs have now been killed by the disease in recent months, with Sydney University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital confirming on Wednesday that the disease had spread to the inner-west.
“Our current recommendation is to vaccinate all dogs against Leptospirosis who are living in or going for walks in the Inner West and city areas. There have been no cases reported in other parts of Sydney so far,” the clinic said on Facebook.
“Vaccination, however does not guarantee complete protection against Leptospirosis. There are multiple different strains of the disease and at the moment we do not know which strain causes the infection.”
Owner devastated over greyhound’s sudden death
Alison Cole had lived in Glebe in Sydney’s inner-west for six years with her dog Lux.
The 10-year-old greyhound had been fit and healthy before he suddenly fell ill, she said.
Since Lux’s death from the disease, Ms Cole said she had been wracking her brain to figure out how he could have contracted it, as he never went out without a leash or a muzzle so it would have been impossible for him to drink from any puddles infected with the virus.
“This all came out of nowhere for us. It [the disease] was not something that I had ever heard of before this happened,” she said.
“I did not let Lux scavenge amongst rubbish (he was always muzzled) or drink from puddles on the street, and these are things that the media reports have said can cause this disease.
“I think Lux was an incredibly unlucky boy in that he somehow managed to meet the wrong bacteria through the things he did everyday, just walking around and sniffing everything he was curious about.
“Ever since he died, we’ve been wracking our brains about what we could have done differently, and there really is nothing.”
Like Bu’s grief-stricken owner, Ms Cole had also noticed an abundance of rats in her local area and taken these concerns to the City of Sydney.
“Prior to Lux’s illness we had had very little rain, so I can’t remember puddles being a big feature of any walks in the lead up to this happening,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“My neighbours and I have recently been asking the City of Sydney about rats, because we were seeing more of them around, but we haven’t seen a lot happening to prevent them in our streets.”
In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, the City of Sydney Council said it was monitoring the issue closely and encouraged pet owners to contact their local vet with concerns.
“Rats are an issue in every major city across the globe,” a council spokesperson said.
“An unprecedented number of major demolition and construction works have been occurring throughout the City of Sydney, stirring up rat populations and leading to increased rat movements.”
The spokesperson added that the city council now requires all developers to provide a pest management plan ahead of major construction work.
A City of Sydney Council spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia additional rat baiting stations had been placed in response to community concerns. adding that residents who had noticed an increase in rat numbers were urged to contact the council.
“Unfortunately, rat activity can’t be completely eradicated and there will always be some public areas that require further baiting,” the spokesperson said.
“The City has a comprehensive pest control program that involves installing and monitoring bait stations in public places.
“There are currently around 430 bait stations in public areas across the City, using more than 50kgs of bait per week.”
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