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O'Sullivan

Which is worse: heinous celebrities, or brown dog ticks?

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My last column, regarding Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant (July 9), seems to have offended some people. I regret this most sincerely, and I wish those individuals clearer thinking capacities in the future. Of course, those people can also take solace by keeping in mind that there are still plenty of other heinous celebrities to which they can become emotionally attached. Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson come to mind right away. And if it's a "black" thing, I believe R. Kelly is still out there.

You heard it here first: When the NBA is finished with Kobe Bryant, his malignant narcissism will erupt, and he'll pull some variation of an O.J. Simpson. Personality disorders like his never go away. They can only be bought off for a while.

But I don't want to talk about nasty celebrities this week. This column's topic is a slightly higher life form that is currently driving me and mine crazy: the brown dog tick.

Brown dog ticks are vile, nasty creatures. Mostly, they eat dogs, but they have been known to attach to humans. This behavior causes myriad screams, moaning and gnashing of teeth, which is really an overreaction. Brown dog ticks are a pain in the neck, but unlike deer ticks, they do not transmit Lyme disease or other diseases to humans. They're just disgusting and horrible. However, they can cause diseases in dogs, including ehrlichiosis and canine babesia. The symptoms of these are fever and lameness.

The brown dog tick, or Rhipicephalus sanguineus (Latin translation: "blood-sucking little bastard"), is the only tick species capable of completing its entire life cycle indoors. They love hot, dry climates like Tucson, but really go nuts breeding during the monsoon season. Typically, they're about the size of a sesame seed, but when a female is fully engorged with blood, she can be as much as a centimeter long and puffed up like a gray marshmallow.

They tend to crawl up walls and lay their eggs in cracks or crevasses—all the better for their offspring, once hatched, to jump down on unsuspecting family pets. Once the females lay their eggs, they die. So if you find a slightly deflated-looking one, don't feel triumphant: Chances are, she's already laid her eggs.

Brown dog ticks require three feeding sessions to complete their three-stage development. If they had their druthers, they'd feed on different hosts each time, but in houses with only one pet, this is generally not an option, so they just move to different areas on one dog. An adult female will feed on one dog for about a week, then drop off and find a secluded place to develop eggs. They like garages, dog runs, bedrooms and cloth or wool wall-hangings. Once she's dropped off, she will lay eggs for about 15 days, and because of this, infestations happen really quickly. They're extremely hard to get rid of and notoriously long-lived. They can live from three to five months in each stage without feeding.

To tell you the truth, I've been combating these little buggers for about three years with little success. However, this may be due to my aversion to repeatedly fogging my living space with neurotoxins like permethrin and amitraz. Spot-on repellants like Frontline work well for some pets, but one of my dogs is allergic to them.

Overall, veterinarians talk about "management strategies" and "control." I've never heard one even utter the word "eradication." The reason for this is undoubtedly the fact that if the interior of the house becomes inhospitable, a brown dog tick can live quite happily in a quiescent state on the bottom of a leaf, on a picnic-table bench, or even in a crack in a patio support post—for months. Then one fine summer day, upon awakening, he'll spot a family dog, which in tick-ese means "taxi cab." He can then leap from his resting place and relocate back inside the house.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible is right: The meek shall inherit the Earth. And, honestly, what's meeker than a tick?

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