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Fake News, Pets & Coronavirus

By MARIE CARTER

Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that pets, ergo all ‘animals’, cannot get or transmit Coronavirus, there persists a dangerous ignorance that is causing pets to be put to their deaths at worst, or sent to already under-pressure animal shelters, at best.

WHO, and others such as the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have clearly stated that pets cannot contract and therefore transmit the virus. WHO states: “At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus.”

And yet, pets are being put to their deaths, the Chinese government is paying civilians to slaughter stray dogs, and the dangerous myth that pets can get, and transmit, Covid-19, looks set to fester, causing untold suffering, and death, to our beloved companion animals.

It all started with the little Pomeranian dog from Hong Kong, cute and endearing in the copious media photos cuddled up to his owner. The dog had ‘contracted’ Covid-19 and was in quarantine, was the ubiquitous headline. Less prominence was given to the scientific evidence that the dog probably didn’t actually have the disease, but its ‘diagnosis’ was actually a ‘false positive’. The dog, the scientists explained, may have had evidence of the virus on its fur, from its human, who did have the virus.

The 17-year-old Pomeranian from Hong Kong, which had been cleared of Covid-19 after initial suspicions of the infection were proven unfounded…’

Fake news has never been so glaringly true or dangerous, as this increasingly worrying case of the Hong Kongese dog. Despite this ONE dog in the entire world being tagged with actually suffering from the virus, which it never actually was, scientists including those at the esteemed WHO cannot dispel the hysteria – created and compounded by the media – that the dog somehow, impossibly, contracted, suffered from, and died as a result of Covid-19. Yes, ‘died’. The dog died this week, probably, say the scientists, from the ‘stress’ of being quarantined and the fact that it was very elderly at 17. It did not die from the virus however, because, and I repeat, our pets cannot contract Covid-19!

Disappointingly, responsible news organisations such as ‘The Daily Mirror’ are content to disseminate alarmist, and dangerous, headlines like ‘First Dog to Catch Coronovirus Dies…’ while completely showing up their headline as pure clickbait in the body of their article: ‘The 17-year-old Pomeranian from Hong Kong, which had been cleared of Covid-19 after initial suspicions of the infection were proven unfounded despite a ‘weak positive’ diagnosis, passed away on Wednesday, just two days after returning home…’, writes the reporter. But, tragically, the damage has already been done by this, and other irresponsible, headlines. Many, many people will never read past the sensational headline, subliminally skim reading their Facebook news feed or news snippets from elsewhere. They will now be convinced that the dog died from the virus, despite even this article, stating categorically (although far too late) that the dog did NOT actually die from Covid-19.

As Editor of Pets Magazine, I subscribe to alerts and news feeds that mention pets. Over the past couple of weeks, as the Covid-19 health crisis has rapidly worsened, I have become increasingly alarmed by the worrying noises off surrounding the issue of pets and the virus. This has led to some hysteria where people, particularly in China, have horribly and tragically thrown their pets from balconies or had them euthanised – completely and utterly unnecessarily.

The hysteria surrounding the virus, perfectly encapsulated by the fervid panic buying of loo roll, is starting to have rather more tragic consequences. There have been reports in the UK of worried people abandoning their pets at pet shops. From geckos to week-old rabbits, pet owners are abandoning their pets because of sensationalist media reporting. Because the irresponsible headlines encourage people to sit up and stare, not often reading, or taking in, anything past the headlines. Particularly in our fast-paced world of media commentary where clickbait works; whatever its actual cost in terms of the animal lives taken by the irresponsible headlines. 

The hysteria surrounding the virus, perfectly encapsulated by the fervid panic buying of loo roll, is starting to have rather more tragic consequences.

The situation is particularly bad in China, where Covid-19 originated and which already has a parlous record for animal welfare, with its infamous ‘dog and cat meat festivals.’ One volunteer from Furry Angels Heaven in Wuhan told the BBC that they’d rescued a lot of dogs, and most were abandoned by their owners. The volunteer said some of the dogs are coming from owners with the Coronavirus and who are quarantined. The volunteer wanted to be anonymous, as she has 35 dogs and 28 cats she’s helping care for and she didn’t want repercussions from Chinese officials. There are many more stories of abandoned pets in China alone

Reports of people throwing their pets from balconies directly as a result of more Covid-19 fake news…

Far more worryingly are reports of people throwing their pets from balconies directly as a result of more Covid-19 fake news. Several cats were thrown to their deaths this week in Shanghai while many dogs were also killed. Such shocking incidents were sparked after a Dr Li Lanjuan told Chinese state TV: ‘If pets come into contact with suspected patients, they should be quarantined.’ Tragically, a local media outlet then reportedly changed her words to the fake news line ‘cats and dogs can spread the coronavirus’….

Horrifyingly, the Chinese government is reportedly offering a payment to people to track down and kill stray dogs . Animal rights group PETA has urged Chinese officials not to use the coronavirus outbreak as ‘an excuse to abuse animals’.

Meanwhile the charity Humane Society International (HSI), which is working with 35 Chinese animal shelters, said the government-sponsored culling of street dogs in Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Wuhan, Shanxi, Shanghai has continued to spread panic (source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-china-pets-abandon-false-reports-animals-transmit-carry-a9400056.html

The dangerous myth of animal to human transmission of this pandemic looks set to, very tragically, continue – unless and until, news organisations start to be very much more responsible with reporting. After all, fake news can, and will, kill.

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