Puppy death blamed on Yarra pollution

Families and pets enjoy all kinds of activities by the Yarra River at Warrandyte. Photo by Caitlin Doyle.
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A decline in the Yarra's water quality is said to be harming pets and wildlife. Caitlin Doyle reports.

Walking the dogs on the Yarra at Warrandyte. Photo by Caitlin Doyle.

The owner of a 13-week-old puppy says it died due to infection from swimming in the polluted Yarra river near Warrandyte.

Sharon Fisher says bacteria found its way into puppy Bailey’s liver and kidneys, killing him through jaundice, lung and liver failure.

Her three adult dogs survived, yet suffered pneumonic infection and were prescribed antibiotics for several weeks, says Fisher.

While Fisher still has her Staffy, Maltese and German Shepherd dogs, she says Bailey’s death was extremely sad.

Sarah Kobiolke, studying environmental science at Deakin University, says high readings of E. Coli bacteria caused by “faecal contamination” make the river unsafe for swimming.

Kobiolke says this has the potential to harm not only dogs but other wildlife. She also says it can cause cramps and diarrhoea in adults, while children can experience kidney failure.

Fisher and her daughter Kelsey took their four dogs for a walk and swim in the river near Stiggant Street on a Tuesday last month. By the following Saturday, all four dogs were severely infected with bacteria E. coli and leptospirosis, vomiting and experiencing serious organ problems.

“This happened overnight, very quickly,” says Fisher.

Fisher says the dogs were tested for leptospirosis at the local vet, who said the infection “most likely came from the Yarra”.

The adult dogs have been swimming in the river before, but this is the first case of major infection, she says.

Daughter Kelsey says there are always families and other dogs walking and swimming by the Yarra, and it is “concerning if this can happen again”.

Kobiolke recently undertook Yarra water quality tests at Warrandyte. She identified “possible biological hazards” within the river, confirming that infections are coming from stormwater and leaking sewers.

With the river an “important natural resource” and a place for community recreation, Kobiolke agrees that this infestation could result in additional disasters.

Fisher also says the issue is probably linked to “leaking sewers and water quality”.  This bacterial infestation at Warrandyte has been steadily increasing since last year, according to reports from the Yarra and Bay Government Association.

By April 2016, its reports showed more than 2400 E. coli organisms per 100mL – dangerously high. Only recently has the water quality been highly affected and harmful, it said.

The report said that Leptospirosis and E. coli bacteria were commonly contracted in rural communities, such as Warrandyte, with infections caused by contact with infected wild animals, through water.

Suburbs within the City of Manningham, such as Templestowe and Healesville, have all recently experienced this water contamination with pets and wildlife affected, according to the Yarra and Bay reports.

At a Warrandyte veterinary clinic, receptionist Brayden Fraser says often pets are “brought in with sickness and injuries from the Yarra”.

Fraser says many infections come from other dogs playing at the river in Warrandyte and surrounding suburbs.

The leptospirosis and E. coli bacteria are a “major concern” for the health of wildlife, he says.

Vaccines and treatment against some parasites are available, but he says that for many dogs it is too late, with the infected water harming them quickly.

Fisher says because Bailey was only 13 weeks old, his immune system would not have been as developed as the other dogs, resulting in his death.

North Warrandyte’s Veterinary Surgery vet nurse Victoria Ellingson says at present is rare that animals are affected by the Yarra, although this could increase if the infestation worsens.

But the clinic does see cut paws and injuries from playing by the river. Litter such as glass is increasing in the river, and is causing injuries, she says.

Bailey’s infection and death has been reported by both Fisher and the vet to the local council, in the hope this will help avoid further tragedies.