Penny was Michelle Arriola’s “fur baby.”
The 8-year-old miniature pinscher and Arriola participated in 5K races, played at the beach and watched the White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field on “dog day.”
“She was my everything,” said Arriola, a Chicago teacher. “I tried to do as many things with her as possible.”
But earlier this week, 12-pound Penny died — a victim of a canine flu outbreak that has hit the Chicago area.
She is one of several dogs to have succumbed to what officials say is a dog flu epidemic.
Over 1,000 dogs have been diagnosed with canine infectious respiratory disease, according to the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, which is receiving voluntary reports from veterinarians. Five dogs have died, officials said.
The canine flu is transmitted from dog to dog, and there is no danger to humans or other pets, officials said.
But vets, like Jane Lohmar of Family Pet Animal Hospital, are recommending that dog owners isolate their dogs from other dogs to prevent the spread of the disease.
“I have been practicing for 20 years and I have never seen anything this bad, this contagious, this widespread,” she said.
Dog day care and boarding centers have closed — PetSmart announced it would close two Chicago “pet hotels” and one in Evanston because of the spreading flu — and dog-themed events have been canceled: the Doggie Egg Hunt at Horner Park won’t be happening this Saturday.
Donna Alexander, the administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, said this flu is different from kennel cough, a more common respiratory disease. The flu is marked with loud “honking” coughs, fever and loss of appetite. It can lead to deadly pneumonia.
Alexander said vets started seeing those symptoms in January and that there’s been a steady increase since then.
At the South Loop Animal Hospital, where Penny was a patient, they’ve seen over 100 cases in the past two weeks, said Maria Manrique, a co-owner and vet.
West Loop Veterinary Care medical director David Gonsky said dog owners should be cautious, but shouldn’t panic.
“Our clients are getting very scared. There have been hundreds of these infected dogs seen at area veterinary hospitals and the number who have gotten pneumonia is small,” he said. “The number who have died is very small.”
Arriola isn’t sure where her beloved pooch was exposed.
She had been at a dog day care center but she had also been to the dog park.
Last Wednesday, after a day care session, Arriola noticed her dog was “a little down” and didn’t want to eat. The next day, Penny was coughing and hacking.
A trip to the vet resulted in a prescription for antibiotics, but the dog got worse and that Thursday she was diagnosed with pneumonia and sepsis, Arriola, 32, of the South Loop, said.
Penny couldn’t stand up on her own and she was having a hard time breathing.
And on Monday, at the animal ER, the little pup suffered a heart attack.
“I could hear her struggling,” said Arriola, who agreed to put Penny down.
“It’s just tragic. I have no words to describe it. I’m still in shock.”
“I know that I will never love anything or anyone as much as I love Penny.”
Other dog owners have been luckier.
Both of Susan Knapp’s pooches got the flu and one of them even got pneumonia.
Knapp canceled a trip to the Dominican Republic to take care of Jasper, a three-year-old Australian shepherd mix. She’s not sure when she’ll be able to take her trip because she doesn’t want to board her dogs now.
“It’s very scary,” the 61-year-old West Town resident said. “They’re honking and wheezing. Its just the saddest sound you’ve ever heard.”