In Spain, a nurse’s aide named Teresa Romero Ramos contracted Ebola from a patient (in a manner that has yet to be confirmed). In response, authorities quarantined her husband, Javier Limon, and three other people. And then today they killed her dog, a twelve-year-old mixed breed named Excalibur. The dog was showing no symptoms, and had not been tested and shown to be carrying the virus. (What message does this send to other desperately-needed health professionals dealing with Ebola victims? Just this: If you contract the disease during your work, your pets will be killed.)
In a funny (although not very “ha-ha”) way, this story may be bringing home the seriousness of Ebola to people who haven’t worried much about it. I think most people have indeed paid attention to it, and been concerned, but those of us living in the West have likely been assuming that this is a Third World disease and that the superior health systems in the developed world will be able to handle and contain it. There is some generalized apprehension, yes, but most individuals are likely not fearful for their own lives. (I think that most of us, at least until we get to a certain age, still regard ourselves as more or less immortal, anyway.) However, this killing of the dog is a little different. It is more mundane, more comprehensible: the government decided the dog needed to be killed, and it was (and this despite burgeoning protests and a petition garnering 350,000 signatories). We may find it hard to picture ourselves dying from Ebola, but we can more easily picture the van pulling up and the government agents arriving to drag our dog off to be euthanized.
What’s the deal with dogs and Ebola? Like so much about Ebola, the facts aren’t really in. The medical professionals have been very successful—until this year—in keeping Ebola outbreaks to a very tiny scale, with the result that no one really knows what happens when it goes large scale. The evidence to date shows that dogs can pick up the virus, but do not seem to be sickened by it. It is not clear whether they can transmit it to humans. The Spanish authorities considered this lack of clarity regarding transmission to be sufficient justification to take the dog by force (against the will of its owners), kill it, and incinerate its body. They simply disregarded those who advised quarantining and studying the dog in order to learn more about the virus.
And this is the lesson about Ebola in the West that I think we’re being taught today: It is not only about a risk to ourselves as individuals, and to our loved ones. It is also not only about a risk to any pets we may own. It is rather about the potential arrival of the kind of health emergency in which the government can exercise powers that few of us ordinarily consider that they even have. But make no mistake: The authorities can cite the prevention of a lethal pandemic to do a whole lot of things, to a whole lot of people, not to mention their pets.
And this raises the question of how our various governments are choosing to address the situation right now. Here in the United States, it has clearly been the decision of the current administration in Washington that there will be no “pull-out-all-the-stops” effort to prevent infected people from entering the country, via our airports and borders and such. Instead, there is a clear acceptance by the federal authorities that infected people will enter the country, but the confidence is expressed that with our superior health care system we will contain the virus successfully.
Yet, how did that work out, in the case of the very first person diagnosed within the U.S. with Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan? Today that man died, and may he rest in peace. He went to a Dallas hospital with symptoms, told them he had recently been in West Africa, and was sent home with an antibiotic as if he just had a sore throat (and that’s one heckuva malpractice lawsuit about to be filed). There was no follow-up until he had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance days later. Then, the people he had been living with were just told to stay home … in a house containing soiled towels and linens and other items that undoubtedly contained the live virus. It took many days (and an outcry in the press) before the entire federal and state government apparatus could successfully get itself together to clean one apartment, wherein resided a virus that just may represent the greatest health catastrophe of our time.
Does all of this inspire confidence in how dozens or hundreds of other cases will be handled?
And my point here in the end is that should many more cases of Ebola occur in the U.S. (which looks inevitable), the first impact most of us will feel is not the disease itself, but the ham-handed actions of government authorities trying desperately to contain both it and the panic it will generate.
Here at Cinch HQ, we offer prayers for those suffering from this horrific disease around the world, including for the brave Teresa Romero Ramos, who was willing to help care for an Ebola victim as part of her job, and for those that will suffer from it in the future. For Excalibur, a noble pooch who did no wrong and was not given a chance to be of use in this battle: Rest in peace.
And a note to the powers-that-be: If you ever come for my dog, you’re going to need all that army surplus equipment you’ve been laying up in recent years.