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Monkey Love


One, Kristen S., said in a blistering e-mail that because dogs can transmit rabies and cats can transmit cat-scratch fever, they’re no better than Gambian giant pouch rats that transmit monkeypox virus.

My guess is that if Kristen caught cat-scratch fever — a relatively benign bacterial infection — and then caught monkeypox virus, which is a nasty cousin to smallpox, she’d understand the difference. She could use her recuperation period to set about a study of statistical risk factors, focusing on the percentage of domestic cats and dogs in the Western Hemisphere that actually transmit rabies or cat-scratch fever, as opposed to the percentage of Gambian giant pouch rats that have been imported carrying monkeypox virus.

Kristen closed her message with that ever-so-original command, “Get a life.” I have one, Kristen. We all do. However, a lot of us would prefer not to have it shortened in a glorious outburst of hot, running pustules and 104-degree fevers.

My favorite e-mail, though, was from Gary T., who wrote: “I suppose you thought your article about the small-pet owners pushing a pox was humorous. Outbreaks of disease have been with us since forever, this one is just another sign of our pestilent and careless times — it has nothing to do with small pet owners.

“Slamming people who love small animals, and citing their enthusiasm as the root cause of this new visitation upon us is ignorant of you. Instead, you should be blaming the inspection officials in Africa, and in this country, who allowed an infected animal to be transported here.”

That brief missive is just packed with issues that deserve responses. Here are three:

1. Gary should be careful invoking the word “ignorant” while defending the premise that because our society already has diseases, one more previously unknown pox thrown into the mix is of little concern. Or the premise that an outbreak of disease among small-pet owners has “nothing to do with small-pet owners.”

2. Blaming customs inspectors in Africa and the United States for the monkeypox virus is like blaming the Border Patrol for our influx of marijuana, cocaine and illegal immigrants. It’s like blaming the cops for the crime. Then again, it’s a “sign of our times” that there must be somebody — somebody else, that is — we can pin the blame on.

3. The vigorous defense of “people who love small animals” carries the implied argument that people who do not keep animals in little wire cages do not love animals as much as people who do keep animals in little wire cages. And that’s just not true.

Actually, most everybody loves small animals. Who doesn’t like to watch a chipmunk scurrying through an oak tree, or a squirrel and a blackbird squawking at one another over the backyard fence?

I’m sure Kristen and Gary are fine human beings and I wouldn’t want to be harsh with them. I’d just like them to answer, honestly, if they think that the furry little guy in the wire cage in the basement is happier there than he would be out in the woods.

Some answer this question by noting that out in the woods, the furry little guy faces the perils of predators and harsh weather and other threats, but is “safe” in his little wire cage in his proud owner’s basement.

Well, a guy in an 8-by-8-foot concrete cell in Leavenworth is “safe” from drunken drivers and stray bullets and overturned buses and mudslides and tornadoes and bad clams and all sorts of other threats that the rest of us face. But just ask him where he’d be happier.

I’m willing to accept whatever answer he gives as representative of what we’d hear from the furry little creature in the wire cage.

After all, as another reader put it, “when they get loose, why do you suppose we say they’ve ‘escaped’?” S

Dave Addis is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot, in which this column first appeared. Contact Dave at (757) 446-2726, or by e-mail at dave.addis@cox.net.

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