Pet Parade: Attack of the 'devil dogs'

By AL SWANSON  |  Jan. 30, 2011 at 4:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Domestic diva Martha Stewart recently showed up at a hospital to get stitches after an unpleasant encounter with one of her dogs.

The Omnimedia business magnate, who had just returned to the United States from Cartagena, Colombia, with a layover in Orlando, Fla., stopped at her Upstate New York home to unpack before driving to New York City for appearances and to tape her television show.

As she was saying goodbye to one of her two French bulldogs, Sharkey and Francesca, she apparently startled the sleepy critter and the dog's head hit her top lip. The resulting wound took nine stitches to close.

"I was entirely startled and my neck snapped back. I felt a bit of whiplash as blood gushed forth from my split lip," Stewart wrote on her blog. "Frannie was as upset as I was and cowered in her bed."

An accident to be sure, but Stewart, who asked that a plastic surgeon be waiting to attend to her at the hospital, said the blow was "like a boxing glove hitting an opponent's face."

Dr. William Nolan told People magazine her split lip "wasn't just a little itty-bitty cut."

Now Martha, like any good pet owner, immediately defended her dog saying something had frightened the animal resulting in the accidental head-butt.

Animals at times are unpredictable -- even if they're your best buddies or surrogate children, as the case may be.

Last week, I was nipped on the wrist by my 8-year-old Fox Terrier -- an unexpected development that shocked both the dog and myself. I was trying to get Barkley and our 2-year-old Welsh Terrier into a powder room, when the younger dog jumped on Barkley's back, which infuriates him.

As I reached down separate them, Barkley turned his head teeth gashing and nipped me on the wrist. It was just a nick. I screamed "Ouch," and he ran behind the toilet.

The younger dog didn't understand what all the fuss was about and still wanted to play.

Barkley, who we raised from 5 1/2 weeks old, realized what had happened and was afraid to approach me.

That evening when I showed him the tiny wound he exited our bedroom tail tucked, and a day later, he would turn and run if I showed him my wrist. However, the "bad dog" was soon back in good graces on my lap licking my face and trying to lick my arm.

All was forgiven. "The devil (dog) made him do it," as the late comedian Flip Wilson might say.

Incidents like Martha's and mine don't figure in a warning by California scientists who studied what can happen when pets are allowed to sleep with humans.

A report published in the February edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal "Emerging Infectious Disease" said a 9-year-old Arizona boy contracted the plague after he slept with his flea-infested cat.

The study found people who let their pets sleep with them in their beds increase their chances of contracting more than 100 infectious diseases ranging from Chagas disease -- which can cause life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders -- to cat-scratch fever.

Humans sleeping with animals are more likely to be exposed to fleas and ticks, which can cause other illnesses.

"In many countries, pets have become substitutes for childbearing and child care, sometimes leading to excessive pet care," wrote Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California Davis Veterinary School. "There are private places in the household, and I think our pets should not go beyond next to the bed. Having a stuffed animal in your bed is fine, not a real one."

One survey by the American Pet Products Association found nearly half of dog owners and up to 62 percent of cat owners let their pets sleep with them either on or in their beds. Mine get no further than the bedroom floor.

Chomel and study co-author Ben Sun also warned pet owners against allowing their pets to lick them, saying those "dog kisses" can spread a variety of parasitic diseases known as zoonoses in infants and people with weakened immune systems. Zoonotic agents are diseases or infections transmitted from animals to humans.

The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine recently announced a National Antimicrobial Monitoring System Strategic Plan to combat antibiotic resistant enteric bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella that live in the intestinal tract.

"The risk is not huge," Chomel told The Sacramento Bee in an interview. "But the trend is that more and more people are sharing their environments with pets, allowing them in their beds, kissing them like crazy. They need to know that a risk does exist."

The vets advise people who do share beds with pets to wash their hands frequently, make sure the animals get regular veterinary care and keep the bed and the animals as clean as possible.

"The animals are going to be on medicines to prevent intestinal worms if they're being cared for by their veterinarian," Dr. Gary Levy of Lakeview Veterinary Hospital told WGNO-TV, New Orleans. "You have to be careful about swapping spit certainly to let a cat regularly kiss you on the face or on the mouth. I would have some concern about that."

I've been bitten by dogs and scratched by cats before and after I calmed down I still had to admit my pets are more angels than devils.

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