June 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Real dog, real flu

By |2018-04-22T17:41:39+02:00May 1st, 2006|Memory Lane|
Avian flu: Looking out for your pet.

The other day Bella and I played our favorite past-time, “Real Dog,” an intricate game of surprise and chance. “Real Dog” happens when I least expect it. We are happily relaxing (home, park, parking lot, Fendi shoe section) when mini-dog disappears for a few minutes, only to return with a victim whose neck she ferociously shakes until it is “dead,” and then presents it to my feet.

“Guest” victims have included my much-loved red-and-yellow striped socks, a ball of fuzz, a dirty bottle, a pine cone, and a Roma scarf stolen from a very cute guy (both he and his girlfriend were not thrilled). In accordance with the rules of the game, I praise her for her cunning, style and strength. “Yes, you are a real dog. I can leave you in the wild and you will survive on your own.”

Last week, the game took a nasty turn when she brought me a dead pigeon. Instead of hugging her and telling her how invaluable to the world she is, I responded like any good Philly girl would, “Are you f— ing kidding me??”

I would rather she had brought me a defenseless bunny (my favorite animal) or a guinea pig. To be honest, even a small child would’ve been fine. A bird, absolutely not. Bella doesn’t understand Bird Flu (Influenza Aviaria), and has no idea what the risk is. With recent deaths from the mammal world, a German cat and Azerbaijan dog, we need to know what we are dealing with and what precautions to take.

What is Bird Flu? According to the European Commission on Animal Health and Welfare, “Bird Flu is a highly contagious viral infection which can affect all species of birds and can manifest itself in different ways depending mainly on the ability of the virus involved to cause disease and on the species affected.”

To paraphrase ASL Veterinarian Luca Tosti Croce (who paraphrased the EC for me), Bird Flu is a virus transmitted between migratory birds (wild ducks, and other wild fowl). In most cases, infected birds have been found around bodies of water such as lakes and ponds — notably in non-urban environments. Bird flu doesn’t “jump species” — it tends to stay within its particular breeding group. However, if another species or family (mammal) eats, licks, fondles, or tries to resuscitate an infected bird, or touches its feces, the disease can be transmitted. Symptoms appear within five to seven days. Best example — respiratory problems. See: europa.eu.int/comm/food/animal/index_en.htm

What does this mean to me, Bella, and every other pet and owner? So far, there is a very slim chance that Bird Flu will come to the city (whether a city of 40,000 or four million). The countryside is more likely. What does this mean to Bella’s and my off-leashing lifestyle? If we are to continue the Dogs Without Borders fun, I need to “scout” out the area before giving her freedom. And she must always be within eyesight.

What about cats? They go and do whatever they want. And they like to catch birds. House cats must be kept in the house. None of this “my cat likes to disappear for days but always comes back when I open a can of food” wishy-washiness. You are a pet owner, own the cat.

What about hunting dogs? They have a Pavlovian response to felled birds and other animals. Their hunting grounds must be examined prior to any hunting, and must be continuously monitored. Just like Bella, hunting dogs shouldn’t be left to roam without supervision.

Valuable information on precautions may be found at: virtualpet.com/birdflu/index.htm

What about wild, stray and abandoned animals? Better yet, what about Perugia? (Perugia is Italy’s favorite city to abandon dogs.) Unfortunately, stray animals are at risk. They run around fancy-free without thinking about Bird Flu. They must scavenge for food, which means they have more opportunity to come into contact with infected birds. It is quite simple: your pet should not play with stray animals, and neither should you.

I worry that with repeated cases of Bird Flu, strays will become easy targets for euthanasia-advocates. It will be like book-burning, a completely senseless mob reaction. At present, this inhumane “solution” has not been suggested, and it should not even be an option.

What I would like to propose is adopting animals, fighting against abandonment and donating (funds, time, whatever) to shelters and sanctuaries. Or perhaps just be a nature-lover and pay attention to what is around you. If you notice any sick animals, please report them right away to the local veterinarian.

It may be time for me to rein in “Real Dog,” or maybe retire the game all together. Don’t worry, Bella still has “Bite The Hand That Feeds You.” You guessed it, she attacks my dormant hand until I resist and give her a treat.

— See Erica Firpo’s guidebook series at readblackbooks.com

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.