It got my attention right away. There in the paper was a photo of a beached whale, and not one of your smaller ones, and the headline below it was “Deschutes County reports bubonic plague case.” My first thought: maybe it’s just the one case, but it looks like it could be a whopper. Seems to me you can fit a lot of contagion in a whale. Then I wondered how the whale came in contact with an infected flea, because that’s the textbook strategy for the bacterium in question to replicate itself, in the absence of medieval Europeans. Do whales get fleas? And how would they scratch?

Second thought: wait just a minute. Deschutes County is completely landlocked and nowhere near the ocean. A whale beached in Deschutes County is probably an even more unusual story than a bubonic plague event. Did the newspaper bury the lede?

Thought Three: plague strikes me as plural. The whole point of a plague is to lay waste to a population. Bubonic plague, a.k.a. Black Death, is a splendid example. Half the people in the world died. Having one case of a plague is like offering someone a kudo. There’s no such thing as a Plague Of Locust. How can one person get a plague? That’s a story with no traction.

I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if a whale could have gotten stranded swimming upstream into Central Oregon—Columbia River and hang a right at the Deschutes, is what I came up with, but wouldn’t someone notice? Any good salmon fisherman would notice a 65-foot creature thumping up the river, even ten beers in. Then it occurred to me that I might be dealing with a layout problem in the newspaper, and sure enough, just below the bubonic plague story was a story about a stranded whale. Evidently the whale photo was considerably more compelling than a photo of a wretchedly ill cat, which is what was implicated in the plague case. Still, it seems to me that the whale story could have been presented first, below the photo.

So yes. There was a bubonic plague case reported in central Oregon entirely unrelated to a whale. In fact, the human involved, who has been successfully treated by medicine unavailable to medieval Europeans or much of the modern right wing, was likely infected by his pet. The signs of bubonic plague include fever, chills and weakness, as well as abdominal pain, shock and, oh, bleeding into the skin and blackened fingers, toes or nose. The signs in the cat would include a serious case of hunkering, accompanied by a loss of interest in slashing passers-by for no reason. But that could be a lot of things. It is a testament to medical personnel that they were able to recognize the rare affliction.

Our current Oregonian bubonic plague victim is doing well, but such was not the case with a previous Central Oregonian who, in 2012, lost his fingers and toes after contracting the plague from his pet cat. His cat was choking on a rodent and our hero intervened on its behalf. Anyone would do it. You wouldn’t watch your cat dying in front of you and think: Shit, no. I could get the Black Death from that, but I can always get another cat.

Clearly there’s a lot to be said for not letting your cat outside even if you hate birds and your neighbors. True, a terrorist mouse could breach your defenses inside, but your chances of losing your toes are much higher if you merely send your pet out to poop in someone else’s tomato bed and torture wildlife.

I have no idea if Central Oregonians are especially vulnerable to the Black Death. But as long as we remain free of pythons and alligators, and the climate discourages episodes of gratuitous public nudity, the Florida Man’s status is likely to remain unchallenged.