Of disease and ‘dogs’

by Paul Holmes ([email protected]) 2,401 views 

It has been a long time since I saw the words raccoon dog used in a headline. However, that term has surfaced again and in an unexpected connotation.

We in Arkansas take the term to mean a dog used in the hunting of raccoons in the woods at night. There are six popular breeds in the United States and though the sport has dwindled in popularity in the U.S., hunters in many places, particularly in the South, still pursue this nocturnal pastime. The thing is, the specialized hounds dont get much publicity. The most likely places for headlines that mention these hounds would be in hunting magazines.

The last time a raccoon dog made headlines in Arkansas, then-Gov. David Pryor in 1976 traversed the state trying to drum up support for what he called the Arkansas Plan. Pryor was proposing that the state cut by 25% the state income tax and bar an expansion of the state sales tax. Local governments would get expanded powers, but lose the state turn-back dollars that they were receiving.

At one of a series of town hall meetings on the Arkansas Plan, Pryor said the citizens of the state would decide whether the extra money that they received as a result of the income tax cut would be spent on raising local taxes or on a new shotgun or coon dog.”

The fear that local voters would choose the latter alternative raised opposition to the plan by local government officials and education advocates, Jay Barth noted in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas.” Detractors began calling Pryors plan The Coon Dog Plan.” It was not enacted.

Contrast that with legislation that worked its way through this year’s legislative session. Gov. Sarah Sanders wants legislators to phase out the income tax eventually. Sanderscenterpiece legislation, the LEARNS Act, has passed. Among its provisions are raising teacher minimum salaries and phasing in a voucher system to pay for students to attend a non-public school.

There is no mention of paying for coon dogs, as far as I know.

Now, however, the real raccoon dog that has made recent headlines only superficially resembles a raccoon and is more closely related to true foxes. This Asian raccoon dog is taking a bite out of the lab escape theory of the recent pandemic.

This critter doesnt have anything to do with tax rates in Arkansas, but some scientists suggest it has everything to do with the headlines that were all tired of reading — those about the COVID pandemic that now appears to me has become more endemic than pandemic.

Recent published reports note that an international team of scientists claims they have found genetic data that links the origins of the pandemic to raccoon dogs, the ones that originated in Vietnam and parts of East Asia but now have been introduced to Europe and elsewhere. The animals were sold at a wet market in Wuhan, China, supporting the theory that the pandemic had a natural origin rather than escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.

The summary of the findings indicate that the genetic data in question was extracted from swabs taken from in and around Wuhans Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the beginning of the pandemic. An analysis of the data shows that raccoon dogs, which were being sold illegally at the market, may have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019.

However, the findings dont definitively prove that raccoon dogs carried the virus or that it passed from them to humans, or eliminate the possibility that other animals at the wet market had the virus.

Earlier last month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was said to believe with low confidence” that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab. That reignited debate about the pandemics origin with the U.S. Houses leadership backing the lab leak theory in a series of hearings. The DOE is one of just two federal agencies backing the lab leak theory — the other one is the FBI — although with low confidence.” I dont believe the CIA has weighed in yet.

For their part, China dismisses the idea that the illegal wildlife trade was the origin, instead pushing the notion that the virus came from frozen food imported from outside Chinas borders.

Frankly, I havent spent a great deal of time pondering from whence the virus came — my concerns initially were whether we could get it under control enough to reduce the spread and therefore the incidence of illness and death from it. Shutdowns of business, industry and schools at every level are still making their impacts felt and perhaps will be felt for years to come.

Minus those blasted masks and seemingly contradictory restrictions on who and how many people could gather, I was feeling pretty good about skating past the virus.

Why, Id had all the shots/boosters recommended for a person my age and required for travel. It couldnt get me, I thought, until unable to shake what I thought was a slight case of flu, I visited my doctors office and tested positive for COVID. I recovered without medication so maybe the vaccines helped minimize the symptoms.

Maybe on the couple of days I didnt feel great, a canine companion would have been welcome. But Id take a good olAmerican blue tick over a wild Asian raccoon dog any time.

Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.