Maci weighs five kilograms, is “kind of a little princess,” and happens to be the first Canadian dog to test positive for COVID-19.
An active case of the virus was discovered in the four-year-old poodle-bichon mix after she was tested by researchers from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
“She’s just a sweet little thing,” said her owner, Tanja Loeb.
“She’s definitely a lapdog. She knows she’s one of the only girls in our house and we just love her to pieces, so we just spoil her like crazy.”
Maci was swabbed after four people in a Niagara Region household, including Loeb, tested positive for the virus.
Their other dog, Theo (short for “Theo-dorable,” Loeb joked) was also determined to be border-line positive for COVID-19, leading researchers to suggest he was infected earlier or at a lower level.
Both humans and dogs are doing well now, Loeb said, and the family is grateful for that.
“For me, it started with a cough and fever and quite a bad headache,” she explained.
Loeb was the first to fall ill, but within a matter of days, three others showed symptoms. Two other family members tested negative and the house was quickly divided at the direction of public health.
“We actually had to split our house into two areas, the positives and the negatives,” said Loeb.
The Niagara woman said she’s cautious about sharing her experience because she doesn’t want to dramatize what happened and make people fearful. But when her test results came back, she said, her initial reaction was “terror” at the thought of who she could have exposed.
Her first thoughts were of extended family members. Then, as she lay in bed petting Maci, another possibility struck her.
“My dogs were lying beside me. They didn’t leave my side. It occurred to me, ‘I wonder if I can pass this to them?'”
Loeb called her vet and asked if there were any research projects about COVID-19 and dogs underway to better understand the risk her animals could pose to people and other pets.
The vet’s office connected her with the college and Scott Weese, chief of infection control. He came out and tested both dogs that same day.
While Maci is the first confirmed positive Canadian researchers have found, she probably isn’t the first dog to have the virus. And she likely won’t be the last.
Dogs can be infected with COVID-19, but the majority of them don’t get sick and seem to get over the disease relatively quickly, Weese said.
The news might cause animal lovers to fret, but the professor stressed it doesn’t change the messaging to pet owners. If you have COVID-19 in your household, your dog needs to isolate too.
“Dogs in particular are the innocent bystanders in this,” said Weese. “They get infected by us … and the odds of that going any further beyond that dog, I think, are very low.”
Loeb says Maci and Theo did not appear sick, something she says should be a comfort to other owners.
That doesn’t mean their owners weren’t worried.
“Our whole family was really concerned,” she said. “The two [people] that were negative wanted to either take the dogs to their area of the house and not let us be near them or vice versa. As a family, we all had a discussion about it and just decided we better find out.”
Leaving a ‘little legacy’
By the time they heard back from Weese and his team, everyone was feeling better, Loeb said. So she never feared for her pets.
“It was just ‘Wow, way to go, dogs! Without even knowing, you guys have really made a contribution and helped us understand more.'”
Both dogs will be part of antibody testing to help researchers figure out how COVID-19 affects pets and prepare for the next virus.
Loeb said she’d encourage other owners who have the virus to get their animals tested.
She’s proud of her pooches, especially the princess.
“I feel like Maci now has established herself in her world,” she said with a laugh. “She has a tiny, little legacy that she can leave behind and that’s kind of nice.”