Friday, February 15, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Two

Apropos of nothing, Sarah asks Sissy, "What happened to all of the animals?"

Thinking that Sarah was referring to the plastic animals Johnnie had just been playing with, Sissy replies, "He put them in his backpack and hopefully put them back in his closet."

"Not those animals Mom. The real animals. Like the animals at Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo. What about the penguins and the seals at Sea World and the pandas at the Washington Zoo?"

"Oh." Sissy stops to gather her scattered thoughts. Sarah is the one that loves animals. She is also the most tenderhearted of her brood. Sissy wonders how to answer her truthfully without sending her off into tears.

"I really don’t know what has happened to all of them."

"But you know what has happened to some of them."

"Some yes. Are you sure you really want to know? You may not like all you hear."

"I really want to know."

So Sissy proceeds to tell her what she has heard here and there.

Even with many dedicated people in the world working on animals’ behalves, not all the animals are able to escape the consequences of panflu any more than all the scientists, doctors, and nurses in the world have been able to keep all the people from hurting from panflu.

The pandemic flu actually started as a flu that only affected birds. For whatever reason it started affecting some people and other animals too. But at first it didn’t do this very much because it was still too different from things that could easily make people sick. Over time it changed. It changed a little here, then a little there. Then it started being able to make more animals sick. And it kept getting easier for people to catch. But for a while people whom did get the virus could not give it to anyone else. Then something happened and the virus got really easy for people to get it and then easier to give it to other people and this version of the virus is what we call panflu.

The problem for the animals is the other version of the virus, the one that mostly infects just animals, hasn’t just gone away. Instead of just being in parts of the world, the virus is now all over the world just like panflu is. People call this being "endemic."

"So there is an animal panflu just like there is a people panflu?"

"Hmmmm. Well, sort of. But I’m not a scientist so I can’t explain the difference. It is just that the people panflu mostly just affects people now and the animal version can still affect people, but mostly just affects animals of one kind or another."

Some animals, like a lot of the chickens, get very sick and die as soon as they get animal panflu. Some animals, like some of the wild birds and cats, get it but don’t show symptoms or act sick but they can give it to other animals. And, as was said, humans can still get it if they aren’t careful.

Part of the problem is that a lot of animals, even wild animals, depend on people. The deer that congregate near Jackson Hole, Wyoming won’t have any help this winter to keep from starving because there won’t be any extra feed stands put out. Most people won’t feed wild birds and squirrels anymore, even if they have the food to do it; they are too scared. If the farmer and his family get sick then there is no one to take care of the farm animals. Animals that have learned to survive by living on human garbage – raccoons, opossums, etc. – don’t have nearly as much to live on so some of them are starving.

"And the animals at the zoos?"

"Yes, there are some problems there too."

Some animals living in certain zoos can’t live there except for special help. Its not just being fed and watered, some animals need special habitats to live in. Some of these habitats consist of special temperature controlled environments.

"Like the penguins at Sea World?"

"Like the penguins at Sea World. And like the animals that live in zoos up north that can’t survive cold weather and those that require very special food."

Now in all of these places there are still very dedicated people trying to look after the animals. No one has abandoned them totally. They feed them what they can. They continue to clean their cages and do what else they can. But some animals still get sick and die. Two of the white tigers at Busch Gardens died after eating some infected chicken parts that they had been fed. Some of the wild cats died at that wild cat rehabilitation center over near Citrus Park Mall. They probably caught it from wild birds.

With so many zoo and park personnel sick or home taking care of sick family members, some zoo animals have died because they couldn’t get the very special care they need. Some misguided people have let some of the wild animals escape or let them loose on purpose. A lot of the animals from captivity just don’t know how to survive without people taking care of them. Some of the escaped animals are dangerous and they have been shot at and killed by people if they weren’t tracked down and captured soon enough.

Other types of problems occur in facilities that are trying to maintain animals in artificial habitats. A lot of the aquariums have lost scores of creatures because there is no electricity to run the filtration and oxygen pumps. Pet stores suffered even before the pandemic started because people worried about having an animal in the house that could spread an infectious disease. Animal shelters suffered in the same way. And when animals did start to get sick in these places, the living quarters were so close that it usually meant all the animals would get sick.

"But aren’t animals important? Aren’t people trying to help them? Its not fair!!"

"Yes, as I said, there are dedicated people trying to help the animals. There are also scientists who have been trying to find an animal vaccine so that they can’t get sick any more."

"Just like the scientists that are trying to find a vaccine for people?"

"Yes. Just like that. Just like animals need people for some things, people need animals too – food, work, companionship. Without animals our lives would not be as interesting."

Sarah continues asking a few more questions with Sissy answering the best she can. Many people are concerned about the animal issue. Some are worried about the companionship issue. They are doing all they can to protect their pets. There are people who worry about the work animals. What happens to the seeing eye dogs, police dogs, search and rescue animals, etc.? Trainers worry about their animals. A great many people are worried about food animals. What happens if all the food animals died?

These issues will continue to plague everyone for as long as it takes to develop a full-proof animal vaccine.

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