DEAR DR. FOX: Halloween will soon be here, and every year around this time, I read about black cats being caught and tortured. I know it is irrational, and goes back to the fear of the bubonic plague across Europe in the Middle Ages, but some people still believe this nonsense. Please set the record straight. -- A.M., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR A.M.: My immediate response is to advise all cat owners to keep their cats indoors during this time -- and all the time -- regardless of their color. Fear, ignorance and prejudice bring out the worst in humans, to which we are all witnesses. Black cats are considered the least adoptable by some rescue organizations because of superstitious beliefs that may, indeed, go back to Europe’s Black Death pandemic, when cats were blamed and destroyed in many communities. Even today, as you rightly point out, reports of black cats’ mistreatment are all too common. But in Japan and a few other countries, black cats are associated with good luck!
The irony in the case of the Black Death is that it was the fleas and lice on the people, and their unsanitary living conditions, that caused its rapid spread, killing up to one-third of the European population. The cats were not to blame!
The origin of the bubonic plague, pockets of which persist today in some countries, has been traced historically to fleas in imported textiles that came along the Silk Road during the first wave in global trade. A second wave was attributed to rats coming off boats from distant places where the plague was endemic, infecting Europeans with plague-carrying fleas.
Global trade and international travel remain major public health risks today, calling for much greater government surveillance and heightened vigilance.
HUGE DECLINE IN WILDLIFE ABUNDANCE WORLDWIDE
Wildlife populations plunged by 68% between 1970 and 2016, and only 25% of the planet can still be considered “wilderness.” The grim numbers come from a report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, based on global data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. Worst hit are Latin America and the Caribbean, where the animal population dropped by an average of 94% during that period. Food production is the biggest driver of nature loss, says the report, with about half of the world’s habitable land area already used for agriculture. “We are wrecking our world -- the one place we call home -- risking our health, security and survival here on Earth,” says WWF chief executive Tanya Steele. (Reference: Living Planet Report, livingplanet.panda.org)
WORLD LEADERS PLEDGE TO SAVE LIFE ON EARTH
The leaders of 71 countries have pledged to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The commitment comes ahead of a major U.N. biodiversity summit, to be hosted virtually from New York. “We commit ourselves not simply to words, but to meaningful action and mutual accountability to address the planetary emergency,” says the pledge, which is signed by Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson, among others. Leaders from the United States, Brazil, India, Russia and China are notably absent. (Reference: leaderspledgefornature.org)
CALIFORNIA MOST PROGRESSIVE IN ANIMAL PROTECTION
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed two new bills to protect animal welfare -- including one, AB 2152 from assembly member Todd Gloria, that officially ends the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in the state. This law does allow pet stores to partner with shelters and rescue organizations for animal adoption events.
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