Around 11 am on May 7, 2005, a dog foraging for food for its puppies in the Race Course area of Dagoretti, Nairobi, stumbled on an abandoned baby. The dog, together with one of its puppies, rescued the little girl in a truly motherly fashion.
Christened Angel, the baby was unharmed, even though the dog had crossed the busy Ngong Road and passed through a barbed wire fence to get her to its master. Angel was later taken to Kenyatta National Hospital.
Evidently, then, a pet can be a man’s best friend. But there are instances where a pet can also turn into a child’s worst enemy.
Seven-year-old Kelvin Njue was attacked by their family dog at home.
His mother Veronica recalls the incident that happened two years ago: “Kelvin went to the dog’s kennel with a tin of food. He began to tease it, cornering and attempting to push it against one side of the kennel. The hungry dog bit his hand.
“It surprised me that a dog that friendly could be so dangerous.”
Like Veronica, many parents find it difficult to accept that their friendly pet can turn into a vicious attacker.
It is not just dogs that inflict pain or fear in children. Stephen Maina, 13, cannot venture near domestic fowl after a run-in he once had with a turkey.
“I once got pecked at home. I can’t bear the way they cluck and run after people with raised beaks.”
And for Joseph Ndung’u, the cat shall always be black. He bears two scratches on his face after he once tried to pull down a cat by its tail from his wardrobe.
“The cat turned and scratched my face as it jumped away,” he says.
Most pet-related incidents involve unsupervised children below the age of 14.
Maina’s father, veterinary officer Isaac Kinyua, cautions parents against leaving their little ones alone with pets.
Dr Adil Waris, an immunologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, observes that apart from bites and scratches, children can also develop allergies when exposed to a pet’s dander (skin flakes) or mold.
Allergies to pets with fur or feathers are common.
“If your child is allergic, then you shouldn’t have a pet at home,” he says. “If the allergen comes into contact with the child’s skin, he or she may get skin rashes or hives.”
A child with pet allergies will get affected if she comes into contact with the pet’s dander, saliva or droppings.
“If you find out that your child is allergic to a pet, then get it out of her room and keep the child from the room for three months, for the pet’s skin flakes to die out.”
No matter how friendly your pet, always remember that its instincts, or disease, can turn it into a vicious attacker, thus the need to supervise your child around it until your child is old enough to recognise an uncomfortable or diseased animal.
Veronica, for example, says that her son’s attack “must have been instigated by the dog’s hunger.”
Kinyua attests to this: “A pet’s hostility is usually triggered by hunger, fear or invasion.”
In addition, some pets carry illnesses such as rabies and cat-induced asthma