The Killer in Our Homes

By TD Fuego

Arriving for a stint of duty in Paris on a glorious July afternoon 25 years ago, I was met by a friend, who had been living there for a few months. “How do you like the City of Romance then, Stanley?” I asked, as we sat down to a glass of cooling lager in the lobby of the hotel, which was going to be my home whilst my flat was being readied.

“But, what City?” came the somewhat surprising reply. “I have not seen any of it much!”

Prodded further, he explained that he had been so busy looking down in order avoid stepping on dog-pooh on the pavement that he had barely had any time to look up and enjoy the magnificent city around him. Such a shame, I thought.

Although I enjoyed my two-year stay in Paris, I must confess that it did get somewhat marred by the heaps of doggy-do that was a permanent feature of Parisian pavements. Even the Champs Elysees was not immune although, like most boulevards, it was washed clean every morning. Things were so bad at the time that Mayor Chirac brought in a special, highly mobile dog-pooh brigade, whose sole mission was to zip around on green scooters and hoover up the offending heaps before the citizenry trod on it. Yuck!

Feral Dogs

However, mysteriously one rarely saw any dogs roaming about in the Parisian streets; only their tell-tale post-marks! In Mauritius, on the other hand, hordes of feral dogs wander about with absolute impunity. On crowded beaches, busy town centres, hospital grounds, and even the Police headquarters at Line Barracks: you name the place, and they are there, posing a threat to public health and safety. In any civilized place, their owners would have been fined heavily, and given a firm warning against recidivating.

For the umpteenth time, the Mauritian authorities have been trying through various means, that includes television, to “responsabilise” people about their very visible dogs. But, as night follows day, for the umpteenth time, they will fail. The reason is that our society suffers from a severe deficiency in disciplined, civilized norms of behaviour; and we have a total lack of consideration for our neighbour, or our neighbourhood for that matter.

Of course, we are far from the days when buses used to carry “No Spitting” signs. Nevertheless, we continue as ever to spit with gusto in public places, throw our dalpuri wrapper on the pavement and discard all manner of rubbish that includes foul smelling, rotting animal carcass on the piece of bare land down the road. To cap it all, we find it quite normal to allow our pet dogs to foul the well-manicured lawn of the municipal garden, or simply let them do their business wherever they feel fit—which is usually in front of someone’s house.

When I look at dog owners with their cherished pets, I wonder whether they are conscious of the many hazards that their canine friends pose to the rest of society, and to them. Yes, them, and their family too! These can range from keeping them and the neighbours awake at night through constant yapping to severe bites and dreadful, life-threatening disease.

However, dangerous as they are and can be, most of our dogs are left to roam the streets unsupervised. Of the estimated 300k dog population, 200k are officially classified as “strays” by the MSPCA, as defined by law. That is they are let loose to run around free and unaccompanied in public places, causing a public nuisance and a risk to public health and safety. Most of them do not carry a MSPCA registration badge, which implies that they have not been immunized. Consequently, most carry in their system a myriad of diseases that are a serious health hazard to the human population.

Once Bitten…

I must confess I have a pathological fear of dogs, and anything canine. Maybe, that is because I was bitten by our neighbour’s dog when I was only five years old. He was a small, mean, black cur of indeterminate pedigree.

I cannot recollect why I had gone there but, as soon as he saw me, he began to bark and bare his fangs. However, when I asked chachi Yasoda to call the dog over, she told me not to worry; he would not bite me. But, bite me, he did! It is surprising how many owners even today will assure you that their dog won’t bite. To which, I always say, “You know that, but does your dog know?” which they find amusing.

But, I can assure all mutt lovers that there is nothing remotely funny about being bitten by a dog. More than the pain caused by those sharp teeth, it is the sheer horror of being attacked by the beast that haunts you for the rest of your life. Those scary, bloodshot, cruel eyes, the pricked ears, the bared fangs, and the throaty growl as the beast tears into your flesh. Then, the blood spurting out through the several holes that he leaves behind when he eventually withdraws his teeth. It is more than enough to make you feel weak and faint. I did!

Due to the lack of statistics, I do not know how many cases of dog attacks there are in Mauritius. But, every year in the UK, face bites alone account for a whacking 28k cases, 19k of which require plastics surgery. The surprising thing (or perhaps, not!) is that the majority of these are from the family pet. Apart from the large number of face bites, another 6k people get mauled by other people’s dogs. In many well-publicized cases, young children have been bitten to death. Again, several of these by the family pet!

Bags of Fleas and disease

Besides the risks that dogs may cause physical harm by their bites, they also carry fleas that can infect humans with disease. Moreover, they are carriers of a multitude of viral diseases. The most serious of these is Rabies (from the Latin rabere meaning to be mad). This is a fatal condition. When a person gets bitten by a rabid dog, he automatically contracts the disease and suffers from horrendous symptoms that include encephalitis, damage to the central nervous system and hydrophobia, that is a fear of water. Imagine having a morbid fear of swallowing your own saliva to moisten your parched throat, and you have a measure of the dreadfulness of this disease. Invariably, death follows within days of the onset of symptoms.

Other diseases that can be transmitted to humans by dogs include Lyme disease, Campylobacter infection, Rocky Mountain fever and a variety of worm infestations. Though not immediately life threatening, all of these can cause severe malaise and debilitate the infected person; and need to be treated by a qualified medic. Sometimes, strong antibiotics and antifungals may be required.

Of course, there are some that are rather more serious than others, such a Toxocariasis. This is caused by the parasitic roundworm, which lives in the intestines of dogs. When the dog defecates in the garden, the eggs of the worm get deposited in the soil where adults indulge in their hobby of growing things, and children often play.

When a human accidentally ingest the contaminated soil or fruits/salads grown on it, the eggs hatch in his intestines and spread to other organs, which results in an infection that is known as visceral larva migrans. The larva can migrate through the circulatory system to the eyes causing a condition called ocular Toxocariasis, which can lead to irreversible blindness! I just wonder how many doting parents are aware that the family pet which they cherish so much can cause their children to lose their sight, and go blind for life.

Roundworms can also cause Dirofilariasis which gives heart problems in dogs. Passed on to humans, it results in painful subcutaneous nodules that can mimic tumours, and have to be removed surgically. It can further cause severe lesions in the lungs, leaving the victim with difficulty in breathing and highly debilitating symptoms due to insufficient intake of air and oxygen.

Man’s Best Friend?

It should be clear by now that, when we take a dog in our home, we are taking along a bag of diseases that can be highly dangerous to us, and to our children. Just by playing with it, and getting its reciprocal licks (lots of lovely licks, aren’t there?), we run very serious risks of catching several types of infections. Worse, in spite of our grooming, feeding and petting, not to say loving, it can turn on us and give us a nasty bite that can disfigure us for life. Sometimes, it can even kill!

We humans pride ourselves at being the most intelligent creature on Earth. Yet, in spite of being aware of all the harm dogs can do to us and our family, we insist in calling the canine beast our best friend. I am not sure who coined this expression, but he must have intellectually limited to quote a certain PRB, and could not tell the difference between his hookworm and his rabies. Because, on the evidence, the dog is anything but man’s best mate.

Perhaps, President Ahmedinajad has a point when calling for a total ban on dogs from Iran. He probably knows a bit more than most about the true meaning of hygiene, infectious disease, and the savage, unpredictable nature of a wild beast that can maim and kill at any time. Of all the words in the dictionary, I fail to think of one that adequately describes a rationale human being who puts a dirty, excrement-eating, potential killer at the very heart of his family; and imagines he is doing a jolly clever thing. 

* Published in print edition on 12 August 2011

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