Countdown: Top Pet News Stories in 2005

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 when it comes to medicine, best guesses are not always right. For example, because the young and elderly are most vulnerable to 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 most of thedogs who have succumbed to the bug were in the prime of their liveswith no other health conditions.

No one knows why canine influenza causes mild to moderate symptoms in some dogs, such as wheezing, coughing and/or runny discharge, in some dogs, which go away on their own. In other dogs,the flu can progress to pneumonia and/or create a bacterialinfection, which might even be life threatening.

There was a degree of panic and some people called for dogs to be isolated. Crawford says this makes as much sense as not allowing children to attend school because 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, 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 influenzadissipate in 2006 or if the virus spreads.

4 Breed Specific Legislation

This is far more of an epidemic than the canine flu, and it’s killing more dogs. Boston, Denver and Toronto are among the cities that now restrict or ban pit bulls all together. After a bizarreattack outside Chicago that included three pit bulls and sixhumans, one alderman in the Windy City began to blow a lot hot airabout how pit bulls are somehow different than other dogs and needto 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 haves hows that additional problems are created as a result.”

As Bradley points out, serious dog attacks truthfully don’t occur 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, Ill. He’s proposinga potential felony charge against owners of dogs who cause aserious injury.

3 Gene Mapping

“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 aveterinary 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.

Maine Coon Cat.

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 Hurricane Katrina

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, ass he 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 airportstill?” 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 oncoast to coast TV, rescuers appeared. But when they refused to take her Rottweiler, Case refused to be rescued.

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Robin Case’s Rottweiler, Princess.

After the storm, the entire nation witnessed the dramas like these 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 arm son 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 Katrina Aftermath

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 they were not permitted to bring their animals.

Owners left behind ominous notes on school blackboards. Onesimply 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 were 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 renewedhope, and just plain got these old bones out of the house. Lastmonth (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. Itwouldn’t have been possible without my dog.”


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