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Threats that you don't know may be hiding in otherwise beautiful summer outdoors.

Remember “Rumsfeld’s Defense”
To Keep Your Pets Safe

In one of his famous (or infamous) quotes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld waxed at length about “knowns” and “unknowns,” warning correctly that the most dangerous are “unknown unknowns.”

His admittedly complicated syntax may have hidden a profound point. Most simply, he might have said, “It’s not just what you don’t know, but what you don’t know that you don’t know.” Or, as someone else once said, when you assume things, bad things can happen.

It can be especially important to keep these ideas in mind with your pets. For example, there are a lot of great videos on social media showing pets (especially dogs) frolicking in a pool. The dogs appear happy and, if it’s a hot day, some of them may like it. But some may not. Cats, rabbits and other pets rarely like water.

This is where Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” come in. Many animals, including many dogs, do not like deep water and are not natural swimmers.

Swimmers or not, many dogs, cats and other pets can have great difficulty getting out of a pool if they’re thrown, fall or jump in to. Pets can and do drown either from owner misunderstanding or not realizing that a pet should not be left alone near a pool. Assuming otherwise can lead to disaster.

Other Assumptions

This time of year, we and our pets do a lot of things that aren’t possible the remainder of the year besides filling the pool. Cooking on a hot grill, hiking in woods with ticks and other threats, facing dangerously hot weather and more are all crammed into a few months, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Heat may deserve special attention. Few people realize it, but a fit human is far more able to endure hot temperatures than most animals. It’s why we “lost” our fur and sweat over most of our bodies, something most animals can’t even come close to. Even if you’re not in great shape, it’s good to keep in mind that if you and your pet are driving or, especially, walking in warm weather, your pet is probably more uncomfortable than you are. If you’re on a hot sidewalk, remember that you’re wearing shoes and your pet isn’t. And while we shouldn’t have to mention leaving a pet in an enclosed car, many obviously don’t get that still! Just don’t.

Depending on where in the country you live, threats from other creatures is also an issue. Ticks can cause infections and spread disease, as can mosquitoes. Snakes, bees and other critters that sting or bite can be a serious issue. So, too, can be other pets.

Where Rumsfeld’s advice is especially helpful is when you and your travel, for example. Say you’re from Maryland and are visiting friends in Arizona. As you do at home, you let your dog out “for airing” but become alarmed when he or she doesn’t return. Later, you find the dog badly injured, apparently bitten or stung by a venomous insect or reptile.

“But he (or she) has never gotten in trouble before!” you say. Well, the dog probably had not ever seen a Gila monster or extremely venomous scorpion in Maryland.

Check First

These types of “assumptions” happen all the time. A recent, and tragic incident involved a toddler, not a pet, who was killed by an alligator in Florida, near Walt Disney World. The family was visiting from their home state of Nebraska, where alligators are non-existent except at a zoo. Walking near or even wading in still water is a common, everyday experience in warm weather. Floridians, however, have a saying: if there’s water, there’s gators. Ironically, had the family been visiting Africa, Central or South America, they might have been more alert to “unknown unknowns.”

Most unknown threats are more mundane but equally serious: heat stroke, choking on a corncob at a cookout or foods with toothpicks and skewers. To keep you and your pets happy, give a little thought to potential dangers. If in doubt, it might be better to keep the pet out of the way, either in the house, on a leash or in a cage. You’ll both be happy in the long run.