Very recently, South Portland instituted a new rule that dogs must be leashed in public spaces. This is not an unheralded move, seeing as how it is an extension of a previous rule that dogs must be leashed in public streets and parking lots on top of Mill Creek Park as well as the Greenbelt Walkway. On top of this, it should be mentioned that dog owners are now required to walk their dogs while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from non-household members whether human or animal.
Based on that last requirement, it should come as no surprise to learn that the new rule is a response to the current COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, South Portland isn’t the sole place to institute such a rule, as shown by the example of the City of Portland. Considering the extent of the current COVID-19 crisis, one can’t help but suspect that other places in the United States will follow suit, particularly if they are situated in regions that are treating the pandemic with the seriousness that it merits.
Is This a Good Reason to Require Dogs to Be Leashed in Public Places?
There is still much that remains unknown about COVID-19. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there is no simple and straightforward answer to whether this rule is justified or not. Instead, the relevant authorities are erring on the side of caution, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when there are lives at stake. First and foremost, we don’t know the ease with which COVID-19 can jump from dogs to humans and vice versa. In fact, while there have been a couple of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in dogs that are suspected to be the result of human-to-animal transmission, there are no confirmed cases of the reverse. If anything, considering the findings of one of the preliminary studies on the matter, interested individuals shouldn’t expect to see the latter anytime soon.
For those who are curious, the Harbin Veterinary Reseach Institute conducted a study for the purpose of determining whether various species of domesticated animals could become a major factor in the spread of COVID-19. The study saw the researchers exposing the animals to samples of the virus, examining them to see whether the animals had become infected or not, and then putting the exposed animals in cages situated next to unexposed animals to see whether the latter could become infected or not. In total, the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute studied not just cats and dogs but also pigs, ferrets, ducks, and chickens.
As it turned out, ferrets were very susceptible to COVID-19, so much so that they showed promise as test subjects for potential treatments. In contrast, the pigs, the ducks, and the chickens didn’t even show viral RNA, which was true whether they were the animals exposed to the samples or the animals exposed to the animals exposed to the samples. Meanwhile, cats and dogs were nowhere near as susceptible as ferrets but still more susceptible than pigs, ducks, and chickens. The cats were somewhat worse off in the sense that it was apparently possible for one cat to pass COVID-19 to another cat, though the results suggested that the chances of such occurrences weren’t very high. For comparison, just two out of the five exposed dogs even showed viral RNA in their faeces, which is notable because viral RNA isn’t the same thing as the infectious virus. In other words, the study suggested that neither cats nor dogs were likely to become major factors in the spread of COVID-19.
Having said that, it is important to remember that this was nothing more than a single study, meaning that further research is needed to either support or contradict its findings. After all, it isn’t easy to confirm something in science, which is a huge problem when there is so much time pressure in relation to the matter. As for why people should be concerned about the potential for COVID-19 to jump from dogs to humans and vice versa, the answer is that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. Basically, the adaptations that enable a virus to infect one species can provide it with a chance to infect similar species, which is why coronaviruses as well as a wide range of other pathogens have been known to jump from species to species. On top of this, even if a particular virus can’t make the jump now, viruses are notorious for evolving at a rapid rate, meaning that it could gain some kind of adaptation to enable such a jump in the future. The more contact that two species have with one another, the more opportunities for coronaviruses as well as other pathogens to make the jump.
Due to this, while the CDC has stated very clearly that there are no confirmed cases of pets spreading COVID-19 to pet owners at this point in time, it recommends that pet owners treat their pets in the same way that they would treat human family members. First, this means minimizing their pets’ contact with both humans and animals outside of the household. Second, this means isolating them from a household member should the latter become sick. In other words, there is no confirmation that people can spread COVID-19 to pets and vice versa, but as far as the CDC is concerned, it is better for interested individuals to be safe than sorry.
Time will tell how widespread such rules will become in the United States. Currently, there are already people who have become disgruntled by the rules instituted to combat COVID-19, who are likely to become more and more common in the times to come for one reason or another. However, COVID-19 is a very real threat to human well-being, meaning that authorities that are concerned about human well-being are likely to treat these rules seriously until the situation changes. On its own, the requirement for dogs to be leashed in public places shouldn’t be particularly onerous under normal circumstances, but the fundamental problem is that these aren’t exactly normal times with normal circumstances.