Black and white cat peers intently, with people talking behind it.

Olivia Schaap
is a recent transfer student to the U of A, having graduated with honors from Northwest Arkansas Community College with her Associate of Arts degree. She was heavily involved in many clubs at NWACC, including holding office as president of the Honors Student Association, and was named the Outstanding Graduate of the Comm/Arts department of 2019/2020. Now she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in creative writing at the U of A, and hopefully a graduate degree after that. This post is the first of several written in response to the Honors College Forum: Pandemic, one of the first college courses in the country to specifically focus on the global outbreak of COVID-19.

In recent months, humanity has taken a collective crash-course in social distancing. We went from having never heard the phrase to becoming experts in global pandemic quarantining. However, we may not be aware of the importance of social distancing not only from people but also from our pets.

In the Honors “Pop-up Forum” Pandemic, we spent 11 days learning from different faculty and field experts who discussed many aspects of COVID-19. The interdisciplinary nature of this course expanded an already huge topic, and it was almost overwhelming to see this global phenomenon from so many different perspectives. We looked at everything from business to medical history, economics to culture, all through the lens of the coronavirus. I realized that this was not just a singular disease – as a pandemic, COVID-19 carries all-encompassing, global implications.

This sentiment was reflected when I was given the opportunity to interview two local veterinarians, Dr. Laura Rothfeldt and Dr. Lauren Thomas [who taught the fourth class of Pandemic, Human-Animal Transmission].They spoke extensively about the complicated, intricate relationships between animal and human health. In particular, they discussed the nature of SARS-COV2 as a zoonotic disease, which originates in animals but transmits to humans. Most deadly diseases in recent human history originated in animal hosts like bats or camels, or on animals carrying ticks or fleas. Often, these diseases originate in wild animals, separated from the controlled environment of our domesticated animals and pets.

What became crucial to me was when the two veterinarians explained that COVID-19 also shows signs of reverse zoonosis (which is sort of like a two-way street, where sick animals infect humans, who in turn can infect other animals – like their pets). There have been several cases of cats in particular catching this disease, although right now the CDC states domesticated animals pose little risk in spreading the disease further. Rather it’s us who should be careful around our own pets to prevent exposing them unduly. Dr. Rothfeldt explained the importance of working together to protect not just ourselves, but our pets as well. After all, although we must social distance alone, it’s not for ourselves alone.

In speaking with Dr. Rothfeldt and Dr. Thomas, I learned about the One Health Organization, a coalition of transdisciplinary work acknowledging that health is interconnected “between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment” (CDC 2020). The veterinarians explained to us that no life is static, nor exists in a bubble separated from the rest of the world. Rather than separating human health and animal health, this organization seeks to take a more comprehensive look at life and wellness for the benefit of all.

The mission of One Health paralleled many of the lessons I learned throughout the entire Pandemic course. The world is huge and complicated. There are no simple solutions or definitive answers for the all-encompassing, global crisis we all currently face. However, by viewing this from a larger, more holistic perspective we begin to see how important it is for us to all work together right now. In times of crisis, humanity often reacts in fear – looking for someone to blame, some action to take. Human nature pushes us into survival mode, but we must remember that a global crisis requires a global solution, and only by working together can we find a solution for the benefit of us all.