"Ebola Dog" Excalibur's Death Will Get Spain Sued, Ebola Victim's Family Say

On Tuesday, hospital officials declared that Spanish nurse María Teresa Romero Ramos is free of Ebola. The first person to contract the virus outside of West Africa, Romero tested negative for Ebola on Sunday and will be released after a recovery period at a Madrid hospital. While Spanish government officials can breathe easier knowing a Spanish national has recovered, they may now face a lawsuit over their mismanagement of Romero's case — in particular, their decision to euthanize her dog.

In a video uploaded to Spanish newspaper El Pais' website, Romero's husband, Javier Limón, said that he plans to challenge health officials' bungled response in court.

"I will demonstrate in court the massive debacle that's been the management of Ebola in Spain," Limón said in the 53-second Spanish recording.

A nursing assistant at Carlos III hospital in Madrid, Romero contracted the deadly virus while tending to a Spanish missionary who had returned from West Africa with Ebola. She has been quarantined since Oct. 7. Her case took social media by storm the next day when Spanish officials requested a court order to euthanize Romero’s dog, a mixed breed pup named Excalibur.

The suit comes after protests from hundreds of healthcare workers upset with substandard resources and training to deal with the public health crisis. Some have called for the Health Minister, Ana Mato, to resign.

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Ebola does infect mammals and can jump species. But the Center for Disease Control does not recognize dogs as a transmitter of the virus, and not much evidence exists to demonstrate that canines pose a serious risk of spreading the contagion. Only one published study has found antibodies from Ebola in dogs.

In turn, health officials placed fifteen other individuals who had contact with Romero after her exposure, including her husband, under quarantine.

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Romero and Limón protested the court order, asking instead that Excalibur be placed under quarantine and monitored for signs of Ebola. When the story of Excalibur's impending demise broke, scores of animal rights’ activists congregated outside of Romero’s apartment block to protest the government’s aggressive decision and to attempt to prevent it.

But the campaign to save Excalibur didn’t really take fire until the organizers took to social media. Using the hash tag #SalvemosaExcalibur — which translates to “Let’s Save Excalibur” — supporters called for the Spanish Health Ministry to spare the dog’s life. In 24 hours, the hashtag was retweeted nearly 400,000 times, making it the second most popular meme circulating the Internet worldwide. Two Change.org petitions generated more than 380,000 and 70,000 signatures, respectively.

Ultimately, the activists’ protests — online and in the streets — proved ineffective against the Spanish government’s concern to tamp down on any potential avenue for Ebola’s spread. According to El País, Excalibur was sedated and put down on Oct. 8 before his body was incinerated.

I love dogs as much as the next person, and I certainly would have pushed for keeping Excalibur in quarantine until the Spanish health officials could determine whether or not he posed a risk of spreading the virus. But I'm a bit bewildered by the social media currency of Excalibur's story. Although more than 4,500 people have died of Ebola in West Africa, according to recent World Health Organization estimates, the virus-related news that has generated the most response on Twitter and mass petition sites thus far has involved the death of a dog.

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