Bentley the dog, may he live a long and prosperous life, survived Dallas' recent brush with Ebola. Maybe it was the $27,000 the city spent on his care. Maybe it's that, though it appears that dogs can be infected with the virus if they snack on Ebola-infected animal carcasses or lick vomit from infected humans, they don't become ill.
In any case, Texans should all breath a sigh of relief, not only because Bentley is so much cuddlier and more adorable -- and, importantly, more American -- than the African human who died here, but because Texas would have been woefully unprepared had the disease had swept through the state's pet population.
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That's according to Governor Perry's Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which released its final report this week. But while the first 15 sections of the report, dealing with things like the state designation of Ebola treatment centers, have gotten most of the attention, the basics of controlling a human outbreak (e.g. don't turn away from emergency rooms seriously ill people who have recently been to West Africa, train healthcare personnel to properly put on protective equipment) have already been learned through hard experience, it is section 16, "Care and Monitoring of Domestic Animals," that identifies a chilling blind spot in anti-Ebola efforts.
"There is a lack of quarantine facilities available for pets that have been potentially exposed to Ebola virus and other similar high consequence disease agents," the task force writes in its report. There is also "a lack of trained personnel to handle and care for both companion animals and livestock potentially exposed to Ebola virus and other similar high consequence disease agents." Texas has no established way of testing dogs, cats, and livestock for the Ebola virus. First responders and public health personnel have undergone too few (zero, we presume) disaster simulations "in which companion animals and/or livestock are involved in the incubation and potentially transmission of disease to other animals and potentially to humans." This is on top of general uncertainty about whether dogs and other pets can transmit the virus to people.
Just think, any day a Mexican wolf who has somehow ingested an Ebola-infected carcass could slip across Texas' southern border and trigger a massive outbreak among Texas' dogs and cats -- if indeed that's even possible -- and Texas would be completely vulnerable. It's probably wise to keep handy that black-powder rifle just in case circumstances force a reenactment of that one scene from Old Yeller.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.