A month away from my 40th anniversary of working with animals, I spoke to a group of eager young people considering their careers when one of them surprised me: “You talk about meaningful, at times extremely difficult, always rewarding work with hundreds of thousands of animals. Did you ever get bitten?” Ha! Some of the more unusual examples….
Back in the 1970s there was a fortunately short-lived craze of people expecting to make their fortune raising chinchillas at home for fun, fur and profit. The home industry model was typically based on a small group of females, each confined to her own section of a long wooden box, wearing metal collars which preventing their exiting via the small hole in one side which connected to a sort of hallway containing one male. No collar on the male, he would enter females’ enclosures for food, water and the opportunity to breed. A cruel and pathetic set-up, I liberated dozens of these small and beautiful squirrel-size fuzz balls, several of who returned the favor by biting, one through a thumbnail well into the flesh introducing me to my first experience with injected antibiotics. A case in the 1990s left me caring for several hundred exotic reptiles, many venomous, for several months. The court case finally resolved, the experience ended with a crocodile bite to my forearm deep enough to expose bone. I woke in the emergency room to my second experience with injected antibiotics.
Animals bite and, of course, that is an occupational hazard (less frequently than the pee and poop, however) but in light of the numbers of years and animals I’d say my bite record is pretty inconsequential. On the other hand, over the years I’ve had the window of my office shot out and one of my animal ambulances destroyed with dynamite (back when I led the successful anti-cockfighting campaign in Arizona) and while never bitten by a human I have had my share of death threats (one serious enough to require police escort for days). You can guess which species worries me the most.