Countdown of Top Pet Newsstories in 2005


January 2006

If it’s good enough for CNN, MTV, the E Entertainment channel, and countless radio stations around the country – I figure I can do it too. Here’s my own countdown of the top five pet stories of 2005.

5) Canine Influenza – Who would think a virus could leap from horses to dogs? That’s exactly how this crazy canine flu began. Once the new ‘dog flu’ was discovered, immediate hypotheses were made based on what the flu does to people, proving that when it comes to medicine bests guesses are not always the right guesses. For example, because the young and elderly are most affected by the human influenza, the same assumption was made for dogs. Dr. Cynda Crawford, assistant scientist and immunologist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, did the research; she reported, surprisingly, most of the dogs who have succumbed to the bug were in the prime of their lives with no other health conditions.

No one knows why canine influenza causes mild to moderate symptoms (such as wheezing, coughing and/or runny discharge) in some dogs and then goes away on its own, while in other dogs, the flu progresses to pneumonia and/or create a bacterial infection – which might even be life threatening.

There was some panic, people calling for dogs to be isolated. Crawford says this makes about as much sense as not allowing children to attend school because the kids might get sick.

In fact, not all cases reported turned out to be canine influenza. While it may be ‘cooler’ to diagnose the trendy new dog flu, in fact, Crawford discovered 40 per cent of presumed cases turned out to be plain-old fashioned kennel cough. However, it is conceivable that having kennel cough could make dogs more susceptible, so vaccinating for kennel cough seems to be an increasingly good idea.

It’ll be interesting to see if instances of canine influenza dissipate in 2006, or if the virus spreads.

4) Breed specific legislation is far more an epidemic than the canine flu, and it’s killing more dogs. Boston, Denver and Toronto are among the cities that now restrict or all together ban pit bulls. After a bizarre attack outside Chicago that included three pit bulls and six humans, one Alderman in the Windy City began to blow a lot hot air about how pit bulls are somehow different than other dogs and need to be controlled if not eliminated all together.

Janis Bradley, author of “Dogs Bite But Balloons And Slippers Are More Dangerous (James & Kenneth, Berkeley, CA, 2005) says, “Banning a breed – even if you could accurately identify what pit bulls are – isn’t an answer. In fact, what little data we have shows that additional problems are created as a result.”

As Bradley points out, serious dog attacks truthfully don’t occur all that often. That’s the reason why these random attacks make the news – they’re rare events. You are more likely to be rolled over by a fork lift truck than attacked by a dog.

Perhaps, rather than a knee jerk response, politicians should follow the lead of Rep. Mike Boland of Moline, Illinois. He’s proposing a potential felony charged against the owners of dogs who cause a serious injury.

3). “People may not be talking about it at the local dog park, but the completion of gene mapping in dogs will revolutionize veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Colin Burrows, specialist in internal medicine and chair at the small animal clinic at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine – Gainesville. Imagine, predicting an illness just by sending a cheek swab into a veterinary clinic.

This Star Trek technology is exactly how a kind of common heart disease in cats will now be predicted. In Maine Coon cats, a gene responsible for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) was identified, and with a cheek swab researchers can determine if that gene exists. It’s only one breed, and one gene, but it’s a start.

This column is a part of that story, since the research to accomplish the identification of that gene was partially funded by the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund, named for my cat who succumbed to HCM. The money raised for the fund was greatly accumulated from readers of this column, and listeners of my radio programs. So, many of you are – in part – responsible for one of the big stories of the year.

2) A reporter sticks a microphone in the woman’s face and says, “How does it feel to have lost everything to Hurricane Katrina?”

The camera pans down; she’s clutching her cat in her arms, as she replies, “I haven’t lost everything.”

At the airport in New Orleans, a man tells the story of how his dog saved his life. “Then why are you lying here at the airport still?” the reporter questions. “They won’t allow my dog on a plane, and we have no other transportation out.” the man says. “He (my dog) didn’t abandon me, and I won’t abandon him.”

I interviewed Robin Case, the artist who painted an SOS on her rooftop – which many of the news stations aired, it read, “One big dog, two cats, one person. Please bring help.” After airing on coast to coast TV, rescuers appeared. But when they refused to take her Rottweiler, Case refused to be rescued.

After the storm, the entire nation witnessed the dramas like these over and over illustrating what our pets mean to us. We’re talking all economic levels, all races, and all ages – from senior citizens to the little boy who’s puppy named Snowball was yanked from his arms on live TV.

I anticipate there will be national legislation in 2006 generally encouraging the creation of local emergency disaster plans to allow for pets, and that’s a start. But it’s up to citizens to encourage their local municipalities to work with organizations, such as the Red Cross, to craft specific plans. Then, publicize the details. It is a matter of life and death. Without a place to evacuate with their animals, many people just won’t go.

1) Reporting on the murders (sorry – I can think of no other word to describe these senseless acts of violence) of 30 to 40 animals left behind at three different St. Bernard Parish schools following Hurricane Katrina is the most horrific story I’ve ever covered. People were evacuated to the schools. After a short stay, they were ordered to leave for off-shore barges, but to not permitted to bring their animals with.

Owners left behind ominous notes on school blackboards. One simply read, “Please don’t kill my dog. I love her.”

It turned out, the animals were all shot. No one knows why. The photos of the carnage was horrific, the most difficult story ever for me to cover.

Now, allow me one extra for my list; it’s my favorite story, call it number 1A: Reader Jack in Florida wrote, “I lost my wife of 47 years in January. My little mixed breed dog gave me renewed hope, and just plain got these old bones out of the house. Last month (November, 2005), I met Noreen while walking my dog. I won’t go into kiss and tell details, and at my age there’s so little to tell. But we’re friends. And having a lady friend is nice. It wouldn’t have been possible without my dog.”