Politics & Policy

Gray Lady Bites Dog

(Dreamstime image: Sergey Lavrentev)
The Times is convinced that being licked by a dog will give you a disease. It won’t.

Apparently tired of warning about existential risks such as stop-and-frisk and sugary drinks, the New York Times has come up with a new one: letting your dog lick your face. I am not making this up.

This is how the Times, long known as the Gray Lady of journalism for its colorless articles, cries “Wolf”: A “general assignment” reporter tries to craft an article in the traditional manner taught in journalism schools — toss out a good “hook” for the lede, explicate the issue, include quotes from “experts” on both sides of the issue, and end with a snappy closing sentence. Unfortunately, no one on staff seems to recognize that the piece revolves around a non-issue.

Anyone who has had dogs knows that they can get into disgusting things, but most people have sense enough not to kiss the mouth of a dog that has just eaten another’s droppings or a month-old lamb chop discovered during a walk. Warning against such a kiss is the entire point of the Times’s article, and yet the reporter couldn’t come up with a single first-hand example of an illness. So what, exactly, did he hope to accomplish?

The benefits of dog ownership have been proven by numerous public-health studies and are not in doubt. Dogs help their owners to meet physical-exercise guidelines, and are associated with key measures of cardiovascular health such as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. According to the CDC, they can improve a wide spectrum of mental-health disabilities, including anxiety, panic, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, among others.

That’s not all. A 2004 study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that exposure to dogs in infancy, especially around the time of birth, is associated with positive changes in certain immune modulators and with a lower incidence of allergic sensitization and atopic dermatitis. Children who had a dog at home as newborns were much less likely than non–dog owners to have atopic dermatitis and wheezing by their third birthdays. Interestingly, this may be the result of dogs bringing various allergens (dust, dirt, etc.) into the home from outside, which has a salutary effect on the development of the immune system.

Thus, close and even intimate contact with dogs is beneficial. I suspect that most kids, and many adults (including this writer-doctor), kiss their dogs, so the salient question is: How frequently does that transmit disease?

I asked several long-time practicing physicians, including pediatricians, if they’d ever seen a patient with an infectious disease contracted from a dog. None had.

What, then, is the impact of articles like the one in the Times? One of my dog-park buddies, a psychiatrist, related that a couple of days after the article appeared, some friends of hers were suddenly afraid to let their toddler daughter near her dog. They cited the Times article as the reason for their fear.

If the Times insists on exposing itself to mockery with dumb trend pieces, it should at least ensure that those pieces don’t touch off such unfounded panic.

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