Collier County dogs may share devastating disorder seen with panthers

When Rick Virdinlia saw a video of panthers struggling to walk on their hind legs on WINK News, he thought it looked familiar.

“It brought to our attention that our Harley, our dog, started stumbling and having trouble walking with his hindquarters,” Virdinlia said.

They tried everything to mend the medical malady, including going to the veterinarian and neurologists. But he said, his dog’s condition only became worse.

Vets said it could be canine degenerative myelopathy, which is a disease that causes wobbling with dog’s hind legs. However, they did not get a confirmed diagnosis.

“We ended up having to euthanize Harley,” Virdinlia said, “and Harley’s in our backyard.”

Virdinlia lives in Golden Gate Estates, which is prime panther territory. He said the same problems are happening to other dogs on his street. Two of his nearby neighbors had to euthanize their dogs because of hindquarter issues.

VIDEO: Shows the surveillance recordings of the animals with the diagnosed disorder.

Now, they think there may be a connection between the deaths of those dogs and the disorder spreading among Southwest Florida panthers.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it is investigating what is causing this to happen in panthers and bobcats experiencing those same symptoms. They are testing for several potential toxins, including rat pesticide, infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies as possible causes.

We sent the video of Harley to the FWC. It said they would investigate any connections between his conditions and the panther.

For Virdinlia, that may bring him closure. He hopes the investigation by the FWC will lead to some answers on what happened to his beloved Harley.

“I just kept my hand on him”

After our story aired Wednesday afternoon, many concerned viewers with dogs sent in videos of their pet dragging their legs like sick panthers have done.

Karen Orange was one of the viewers at her home when she saw the videos of panthers and now dogs unable to walk.

“Holy mackerel,” Orange said. “Could that possibly be what happened to George?”

While in a walk-in late June, Orange’s dog, George, started to lose control of his back legs. She said, bringing him to the vet left her not only confused but heartbroken.

George was put down.

Orange said the vets ran multiple tests, but could not say for sure what caused the problem in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But what mystified Orange is her dog had no previous medical issues.

“I stayed up with him,” Orange said. “He didn’t want to be alone. And he laid on the couch. I just kept my hand on him.”

With the possibility of an unknown illness affecting other animals, Orange wishes she could have done something to prevent other dog lovers from sharing her intense emotional pain.

“I wish that I had known this before because I would have had them do a necropsy on him,” Orange said. “And maybe that would have helped.”

Anyone with trail footage or videos that shows an animal that appears to have a problem with their hind legs can upload them to the FWC panther sighting web page.

For large files, contact FWC at [email protected].

Reporter:Breana Ross
Justin Kase
Writer:Michael Mora
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