Should You Kick Your Dog Out of Bed Tonight?

On a slow news day, here's a media rule of thumb: Run a pet story. Tales of cute animals sell newspapers and magazines like nothing else.

Except for last Thursday.

AOL News bucked the time-honored tradition of giving priority consideration to, say, firefighters bravely rushing in to rescue a drowning dog by running a different breed of shaggy-dog story.

Instead of something sweet, AOL served up this scarily sensationalist headline: "Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie in Your Bed Can Kill You." The article, by AOL Senior Public Health Correspondent Andrew Schneider, is a classic example of a news genre that's becoming all too common in the mainstream media: call it, "Petsploitation."

Scientific evidence has proven conclusively that animal companions are best friends with health benefits: they relieve human stress, lower human blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increase human immune function, and just generally lift human spirits. Simply petting a dog does all of the above; is it any wonder statistics show that 56 percent of dog owners, this writer included, sleep with their dog next to them?

Now, a couple of attention-seeking California veterinarians, experts in zoonoses (diseases or infections transmitted from animals to humans) want Spot off your bed, right now -- and they got a big boost from Schneider, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. In a study to be published in next month's issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's publication Emerging Infectious Diseases, Drs. Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ben Sun, chief veterinarian for California's Department of Health, allege that

...the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing, or licking is real and has even been documented for life-threatening infections such as plague, internal parasites...

Following immediately on the above quote, AOL's Schneider adds his own ominously alarmist two cents:  -- "and other serious diseases."

For proof, Schneider cites the following from the forthcoming CDC report:

* A 9-year-old boy from Arizona got the plague because he slept with his flea-infested cat.

* A 48-year-old man and his wife repeatedly contracted MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which their physicians eventually attributed to their dog. The animal "routinely slept in their bed and frequently licked their face," the California experts reported.