When Bad Journalism Begets Panic
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re aware there is a global pandemic creating massive chaos across the world. Entire countries have closed their borders. Cities are on lockdown. Schools and businesses are closed. Lots of people are sick and a pretty substantial number have succumbed. This monster, the latest bogeyman our society faces, has a name — COVID-19. Well, actually it’s the Novel Coronavirus (“Novel” meaning it’s new and hasn’t been seen before and “Coronavirus” meaning it’s of a class of viruses that are shaped like a crown. COVID-19 is the respiratory illness that results from it).
Why am I writing about this in a publication about dogs? Simple. This article came out yesterday and people are freaking out.
I’ll get to the important point first. Don’t freak out, because what this article’s headline and web link wording would have you believe isn’t real. In fact, the positioning of this article is a load of crap. Gotta love inept (and immoral) writers and/or editors who play into fears and saturate content with clickbait to get attention. When you read the article it doesn’t actually say the World Health Organization is telling you that you will get this from your dog or vise versa. In fact the WHO is very clear that you cannot get this from your dog nor give it to your dog. But be someone who just glances at headlines or at a tweet that slips by, and you’d believe something else entirely. The verbiage in the Quarz Media post is designed to get attention. Whether that was a failure of a flawed reporter or someone on an edit desk deciding to bump up traffic? Who knows. Either way it’s utterly flawed and incredibly irresponsible a way to get attention.
And they sure got my attention. For the poor writer, unfortunately it also means she now has both barrels of my keyboard shotgun pointed at her pedestrian efforts. I’ll get to her in a minute. For now, let’s talk about what’s important.
I’ll say it again — don’t panic.
Here are the actual facts.
In Hong Kong there were two cases (each one with one dog, both cases entirely unrelated to each other as best anyone can tell) where a dog belonging to a human who’d tested positive for this particular Coronavirus was for some reason tested. One of those two dogs turned up a weak positive. Not positive. Not presumptive positive (code word for we know it’s positive we just need to wait for another test). Weak positive. The dog was asymptomatic. Not a single symptom. The dog did not develop COVID-19.
Now why they chose to test an entirely asymptomatic dog is curious to me, but they did.
There isn’t a single scientist or reasonable and reliable data cruncher I know who’d say one case of weak positive is anything near a reliable data set. More to the point there are ZERO cases recorded that imply that any human anywhere has been infected by a dog.
Put simply — there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that this virus is zoonotic in any kind of way valid for concern.
That being said, if an infected person pets your dog and then you pet your dog or YOU are sick and someone pets your dog, touches its leash or belongings it is possible that surface transmission could occur. Of course if you’re isolating and not sick and no one else has touched your dog then that’s not an issue.
If I weren’t a dog professional with an advisory board of resources in the veterinary field and someone who’s deeply ingrained in legitimate information on pet health, I’d probably freak out too. This virus is tanking the economy, people are losing jobs, people are sick and some people are losing their lives. There is no vaccine for it and we already know the best way to stop the spread is to wash hands, don’t touch people, isolate at home and engage in “social distancing” — maintain at least a 4 to 6 foot buffer between people.
Um … How the f*ck am I supposed to maintain any amount of ‘social distance’ from my dog?
Yeah, so there’s that.
If you want a reputable resource on the matter, here’s a much better read from Craig Road Animal Hospital. Here’s another very reasoned post from Wisdom Panel. Oh wait, here’s a third one from AN ACTUAL LAB… You know, scientists who have data.
In times like this (well, all times, actually, but especially like these), facts matter. They matter a lot.
The truth is, the bigger risk in transmission with your dog is if you or someone who is infected touches the dog and then someone touches the dog (its collar, leash, toys, bedding, even potentially its fur) and touches their face, that person could contract the virus through the surface contact.
At The Hydrant Club we are wiping down every dog’s leash/collar/belongings that enter our facility and wiping down regularly while in our care. We also are wiping down dogs when they arrive with baby wipes. The staff are washing their hands regularly, wiping down surfaces and we are restricting contact with clients to dog hand-off/pick-up (and even have modified that process to limit exposure). As our Club members and any person who ever visited our facility knows — cleaning, disinfecting and hygiene are a top priority. We change air filters often, have a hospital-grade HVAC system, keep air flowing and are fiendish about keeping the place clean. If you didn’t see the dogs at our facility you’d never know dogs were even there — clean and pristine. We’ve upped the ante even further with this current crisis and will continue that until it is no longer necessary.
As for the reporter who penned this careless piece, Youyou Zhou, what I say is this — shame on you. Your bio on the Quartz Media site states you write “stories with data”. Perhaps you should adjust that to read that you write stories “with questionable data and without referring to facts”. It also notes you were a former interactive graphics person at The Associated Press. Splendid. Maybe work on the other part of Journalism — that part that includes gathering full information and checking facts. I don’t know what “Convergence Journalism” is, but you’re a graduate of one of the best Journalism programs in the country. Do better.
To the rest of you, I offer this. Take … a … deep … breath. Is there reason for concern? Yep. Is there reason for caution? Sure. So, be careful. Be mindful. Most of all, don’t panic.
Your dog needs you.