Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Another Country Skill Acquired

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

By the time I found the tick on the throat of my outdoor cat, it was the size of a dime.  
I picked up the phone knowing I could count on the person who would answer on the other end, even at 7:30 in the morning. 
“Fern has a tick on her. How do I take it off?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Months later, what I thought was a skin tag on the old dog turned out be another engorged tick. Again I made a phone call, this one at nine o’clock at night.
“Stella has a tick on her. Will you take it off?”
“I’ll be right there.”
My friend should start answering her phone with, “Jane’s Expert Tick Removal. You tick ‘em, I snick ‘em.” 
She does, too, with a flick of her thumbnail.
When a tick finally showed up on my younger dog, it was engorged enough to be visible in her short fur but not big enough to gross me out. I realized the time had come to figure out how to deal with ticks on my own because obviously, this was going to an ongoing problem. Jane would only take payment in eggs for so long. 
My source of basic information comes from Nova Scotia’s Public Health Services. According to its pamphlet on Lyme Disease, there are 16 different kinds of ticks in our province but only two bite people: dog ticks and black-legged ticks. It’s the black-legged ticks that carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease which both people and pets can contract. 
Black-legged ticks thrive in humid wooded areas and are most active in spring and fall when the woods are wet and cool. 
That means you weren’t the only ones loving the extra-long and warmer-than-usual autumn. 
Two years ago while on vacation in Florida with my sister’s family, one of my nephews came up to me holding his arm out. There was a tick on it. 
“Go see your mother,” I told him. 
I’ve always been grateful to live in an area where bugs don’t get too big or too prevalent because of cold winters and hot summers but it looks like my days of bug smugness are coming to an end as those two seasons get shorter. 
 A few years ago, we learned that mosquitoes can carry the West Nile virus so everyone freaked out, covered themselves in DEET then carried on normally after the initial mass hysteria passed. We’ve been hearing for years about ticks and Lyme disease and it’s enough of a threat to be taken seriously; if not detected and treated soon enough, Lyme disease can be  devastating to both people and pets. So now that our springs and autumns are getting longer and warmer and wetter, let’s just skip the hysteria by doing a few simple things to protect ourselves. 
First of all, know this: Ticks don’t fly. Instead, they hang out on vegetation or logs waiting for a blood-filled mammal to get close enough for it to crawl on and attempt to attach. 
The best protection for humans is full coverage when outside: hat, long-sleeved shirts, socks tucked into pants. For pets, it’s a once-a-month topical application and a once-over when they come inside. 
When the tick showed up on the younger dog, we headed to the vet clinic for a nifty gadget that in a few gentle turns does all the work of removing the tick, head and all, no thumbnail required. 
Slick enough to quell any squeamishness.
Small enough to fit inside a pet’s stocking. 
(Santa Claus doesn’t have to worry about ticks; they cease to be active once the first snow falls or the temperature is consistently below four degrees).  
Since Lyme disease is a possibility but it’s hardly feasible to send off every tick to be tested, I asked the vet assistant what to look for just in case the dog had contracted the disease from the tick.
“If she gets up in the morning stiff and sore, that’s the first symptom. Bring her right in,” she told me. 
A week later, I found a small tick on the back of the cat’s neck. Instead of picking up the phone, I picked up my handy-dandy tick remover, clamped it on the tick and gently turned it until the tick, plus, head, slid out of Fern’s skin. 
When I lived in the city, the only thing I had to worry about biting me was the terrier at the dog park. Now I’m picking ticks off my pets like an employee at Jane’s Expert Tick Removal.
And crossing off another item on the “How To Be A Country Girl” list.

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