Tuesday, October 07, 2008

For The Sake of The Children

Before I left the office yesterday to give a little talk about hawks to my kids' 2nd grade class, I saw this story on the Yahoo ticker. Here's the lead:

CHICAGO - Warning: young children should not keep hedgehogs as pets — or hamsters, baby chicks, lizards and turtles, for that matter — because of risks for disease.

That's according to the nation's leading pediatricians' group in a new report about dangers from exotic animals.

Besides evidence that they can carry dangerous and sometimes potentially deadly germs, exotic pets may be more prone than cats and dogs to bite, scratch or claw — putting children younger than 5 particularly at risk, the report says.

It goes on to suggest that those families currently with "exotic" pets (anything but a cat or dog, apparently) and young children should consider finding new homes for them. The animals, I mean.

As Steve asks, What about farm kids? I guess we can have them bussed to the inner cities for their own protection.

What about The Last Child In the Woods? Good riddance, I guess.

As I spoke to the 2nd graders yesterday, I made sure to encourage them to pick up broken birds' eggs and blue jay feathers and to bring home lizards if they could catch them. And to try to catch them.

I told them (because they asked), that "How you get a hawk" is to grow up catching lizards and putting found feathers in shoe boxes, and by watching birds and getting dirty and being outdoors.

As they filed out of the classroom, I let them all stroke Ernie on his back and feel the tips of his talons and tell him he's a nice bird. One kid asked me if she had to wash her hands after touching the hawk's feathers.

I said, "No, honey. You're good."


Moro Rogers said...

Hmm...As a kid, I must have handled about 500 assorted snakes, turtles, salamanders, insects, hapless baby birds, cats, dogs, and brine shrimp. I got chicken pox, staph and pinkeye. Coincidence? I think not.

Neutrino Cannon said...

While I'm sure you can get all manner of fascinating pathogens from wild animals, and more still from domesticated ones, I would be willing to wager that the number one vector for kid diseases is other kids, especially if you keep a whole herd of them cooped up together in a daycare/preschool type environment.

stevea said...

neutrino cannon, absolutely right. As a falconer and owner of exotics literally by the score, my kids don't get sick.

6 others missed soccer practice tonight because of the latest go-round of defenseless stomach-scouring.

Matt, after years of doing education programs, I have stopped. I know I shouldn't have. The kids need to hear the message.

I just can't deal with the parents.

Steve Bodio said...

Libby said that when she had a little kid she was sick more often from the "cooties" he brought back from school. And that co- workers with kids are always sick more..

batwrangler said...

I am convinced that modern kids don't get enough exposure to everyday pathogens and that this makes them both more likely to get sick when they do encounter new germs and more likely to develop allergies and other immune disorders (because their systems aren't getting enough work from outside sources).

NorCal Cazadora said...

I have the same issues with my COLLEGE STUDENTS. One wrote a column recently about the feral chickens on our campus, and when he showed me a draft, I was surprised to see he'd referred to them as "disease-infested."

I asked him, "How do you know they have diseases?"

He said, "Holly, they're wild animals."

Funny thing is, if I understand history correctly, animal pathogens became a problem only after we domesticated them and kept them crowded together with us.

Good post!

Neutrino Cannon said...

Funny thing is, if I understand history correctly, animal pathogens became a problem only after we domesticated them and kept them crowded together with us.

There are definitely cases of wild animals acting has disease vectors for humans; hemorrhagic fevers and rabies are good examples. Otherwise that's generally right.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good point!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Discussing this very topic at an Ohio Biodiversity Conference not long ago, one fabulous naturalist raised his (unwashed) hand and said, "All this stuff about washing your hands is dangerous crap. I'm a retired pathologist. I dissected bodies. I never washed my hands. And I never got sick, either."

It grossed everyone out, but he made his point.

I am very relaxed about handwashing with our kids unless someone is actively shedding cold virus.

My Boston terrier is always happy to re-inoculate us orally with whatever he's picked up in the yard. Just try to avoid getting smooched on the lips by a Boston.

I like this post.

Matt Mullenix said...

Julie I'm not sure I'd go so far as refusing to wash up after an autopsy. But I take your meaning and agree!

Moro Rogers said...

Mm, yeah, sometimes it just comes down to common sense. Like, um, I had a very strong personal desire to wash my hands when I was 14 and a garter snake I'd caught decided to regurgitate a small frog on me...