The news that a tiger in the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19 is raising questions about interspecies transmission and how to keep our pets healthy.
For many of us, quarantine and social distancing have increased time spent with our beloved companion animals. These furkids attend (endless) online meetings with us, offer much-needed moments for physical touch, and help us keep our lightheartedness.
Animals dominate our social feeds, from quarantine sanity tips courtesy of Pluto the sassy Canadian Schnauzer to the viral Facebook post: “Describe how your pet is driving you nuts during your work-from-home ‘new normal’ but use the terminology ‘my coworkers’ for your cat/dog.”
My coworkers are stalking me for food and ruining my sofa.
Yet, it has not been all fun and memes for animal lovers this week, after The New York Times reported a tiger at the Bronx Zoo named Nadia tested positive for COVID-19.
What We Know So Far About Animals and COVID-19
- Most cats are okay. Although a few other tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo also showed symptoms of the virus, “None of them actually ever acted terribly sick,” Dr. Calle told the Times, and all are “expected to make a full recovery.” Further, the American Veterinary Medical Association notes, “While two dogs (Hong Kong) and two cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, other dogs and cats also living with infected people remain uninfected.” The AVMA notes there is no evidence that cats can transmit the virus to people and no reason for cats (or other pets) to be excluded from our homes in fear of viral spreading.
- Treat animal family members the same. The World Organization for Animal Health notes, “There is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans.” If you feel sick, you should take the same precautions with your pets as you would with humans: Limit contact (avoiding kissing, licking, or sharing food); use good hygiene; wash your hands frequently; and cover your face when you are with others. Better yet, let another member of your family take care of the pet while you recover. Learn more from the Center for Disease Control.
- Hygiene (always) matters. One thing the novel coronavirus has brought to light is how lax we can be when busy. It’s always a good idea to do the following (even when we’re not dealing with a pandemic): Wash your hands before and after interacting with your pets, including when you handle food, supplies, and waste. Keep dishes, beds, toys, and other animal stuffs clean and dry.
- Animals are on the front lines. Although the rush to address the pandemic means more human-first trials, the ongoing search for vaccines, tests, and studies means more animals will be infected and tested on, and lose their lives. As work-from-home protocols increase, many animals already living in labs will be “culled” (killed) due to lack of on-site people to care for them. While there is never an easy answer on this topic, as animal lovers, we can educate ourselves and work to end “whitecoat waste.” Even in so-called normal years, 100 million animals are forced to endure painful experiments and/or killed each year. Learn how to support alternatives to animal testing from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
- You can help our future. Join the fight to end wildlife trade and habitat destruction, which are at the root of disease outbreaks, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Life, as we knew it, has changed, and we need to adapt to ensure the health of all our family members, from the five-fingered ones to the four-leggeds. As many of us with a passion for spirituality have noted, it’s also a time to rebalance our relationships with the natural world. To explore the divine green-ness and sacred furry-ness around us.
Our Spirituality Is Not Postponed
Ecotheologian Jay McDaniel brings together insights from the natural sciences, Christian theology, and interreligious dialogue to suggest we embrace the “green grace” that can appear when we open ourselves to the rhythms of the cosmos: “Green grace is the healing that comes to us when we enjoy rich bonds with other people, plants and animals, and the Earth. It is the kind of grace celebrated by ecofeminists, native peoples, deep ecologists, and sacramentalists. It is green because, as the green color suggests, it engenders within us healing and wholeness, a freshness and renewal that lead us into the very fullness of life.”
How can you use this time to strengthen your bonds with the animals in and around your home? Start your morning signing online animal welfare petitions. Extend green grace into your kitchen by eating only plant-based “compassionate cuisine” for a few meals. Include furry family members in your yoga or meditation sessions and connect more deeply with the more-than-human world.
My coworkers just finished 20 minutes of high-pitched kirtan and are settling in for a yoga nidra nap.
Read more from Sarah Bowen: “Roadside Blessings: Conscious Driving Practices for Animal Lovers” and “6 Gardening Blunders Animal Lovers Should Avoid.”