Monday, July 28, 2008

Kayak Armada/Coliform Bacteria/Canine Influenza

Try and find a header like that anywhere else on the internet. I just dare ya.

Apologies for the lack of recent updates. Just because they call them the Dog Days of Summer doesn't mean there's a whole lot of dog news. But there is some, and I'll lead off with three subjects of local interest.

I wasn't at the Fort Washington Park Dog Beach this past Saturday--woke up a bit too late. As a result, I failed to get photographs of an unusual event--around 20 kayakers paddled by the beach in the early morning, several of whom landed their slender craft there, and made their way hastily to the nearby bathrooms.

Although the dog beach is technically supposed to be a kayak beach, it's a major event if just one kayak actually shows up there. Hell, it's a major event if the bathrooms are actually open at that hour. Which they weren't in this instance, so the kayakers had to head behind the building, and make do as best they could.

The kayakers had no problems with the dogs, the dogs had no problems with the kayakers--plenty of room for all to enjoy this marvellous resource. It can be a kayak beach, and a canoe beach, and a beach where human swimming events conclude, and still be a dog beach--but for the record, the local dogs and their people use it more than all the other groups combined, even though we're mainly only there in the mornings before 9am. It may not seem to make much sense, but offleash hours apply to swimming dogs as well.

The next day, I did make it down to the beach, but it had just rained earlier that morning, and I opted not to let Max swim. The other dog owners I met were also wary of letting their pooches paddle. Turns out we'd all read this article in the New York Times. The same scientific study is referenced here as well.

When the tide is high, you can often see a lot of unsavory debris floating in the water--kept around the beach by the eddy current that prevails there. When the tide is lower, and the beach is fully exposed, the water usually looks pretty clear--but if there's been a heavy rain recently, it could still contain excessive amounts of coliform bacteria, the result of sewage systems overflowing into the river.

Truth is, if we went swimming with our dogs in this stretch of the Hudson on a regular basis, a lot of us would get sick--particularly if we were swimming close to shore, where most of the bacteria is. And yet our dogs rarely suffer any ill effects--I know of one instance offhand where a dog became ill after swimming there, and he recovered completely, after several days of severe diarrhea. This happened to Aries, an irrepressible Black Lab, who still swims at the beach on a regular basis. He was barely more than a puppy when he got sick, and it may be that his system wasn't quite ready to handle the bacteria--as I recall, it had rained very heavily not long before he went in (and it's very hard to keep him out).

It's an indelicate subject to raise, but it seems a reasonable assumption that if our dogs can safely (if disgustingly) consume the excrement of dogs, humans, geese, etc--not to mention all the other unmentionable things they gobble up before we can stop them--they can handle a much higher concentration of coliform bacteria than we can. But all creatures have their limits, and it's probably best to avoid letting your dog swim immediately after a soaking rain--light drizzle makes no difference either way. How long you wait probably should depend on how heavy the rain was, and how long your dog has been swimming in this stretch of the Hudson. With dogs who are new to swimming there (or to swimming anywhere), extra caution should be exercised--give them a chance to get acclimatized.

Very young dogs may have less resistance--and dogs above a certain age may have problems as well, though our knowledge in this area still leaves much to be desired. If your dog is vital and healthy, he or she will probably thrive from Hudson River swimming--it is simply the best exercise a dog can have, and it's not as if there are many places they can do it here. The water is remarkably clean most of the time--and since this is the estuary, it's salty enough to avoid many of the problems that arise from dogs swimming in fresh water. The deadliest toxic threat to swimming dogs is actually blue-green algae, commonly found in freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams--not a problem at the Fort Washington Dog Beach.

The day may come when it's a commonplace thing for humans to swim in the Hudson alongside Manhattan--optimistic reports on the water quality surface every few years--here's one from 2005. If we ever had a human swimming beach in Fort Washington Park, with lifeguards and everything, guess what--dogs would almost certainly not be allowed. Best we could hope for would be that the lifeguards wouldn't be on duty until after 9am. But that's a long way off yet--and until the day arrives, there'll be dogged paddlers, sailing happily up their dirty stream.

In other health-related news, you've probably read about the outbreak of Canine Influenza in the area. A bit more severe than Kennel Cough, but not dangerous to any healthy dog. According to some news reports, it seems to stem from greyhounds being kept in close quarters at track facilities--yet another instance of profit-motivated kennels leading to otherwise avoidable problems. And don't get me started about dog racing--nothing against the sport itself, but the industry that exploits it has got to GO--or at least be radically reformed.

It's nothing to panic about, but as with any communicable disease, use common sense. If your dog seems sick, keep him away from dog runs, offleash areas, and other dogs in general, until he's better--wait a few days after the symptoms disappear. Avoid dogs who look sick (not that you'll always be able to tell).

If your dog is in good shape, well nourished and exercised, he's no more likely to get dog flu from going to a run than you are to get people flu from riding the subway or taking the bus--your odds of getting sick are probably better, although doggy socialization does involve swapping a fair amount of spit.

I'm pretty sure everybody reading this already knows this, but just to be sure--canine influenza does not affect humans. At all.

Be careful--but remember, you're responsible for all aspects of your dog's health. Shielding them from infection isn't enough--we have to give them what they need to be healthy in mind and body, and that includes recreation and socialization. Doesn't do us a bit o' harm, either.

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