My friend and I were walking on the greenway absorbed in conversation, per the usual, when a GIANT PANTHER sprang from the tall grass onto the pavement and charged towards us. Jumping, we grabbed each other while my friend yelled. Giant panther was not deterred. Fight response kicked in. Lightening reflexes engaged. Laser focus calculated the aggressor to be…7-pounds? Heart rate leveled. “Meow,” it said to our ankles. It was aggressively…friendly. It hurriedly moved between us rubbing its face on our legs. Despite initial giant-panther-like assessment, this little black kitty did not seem to have malicious intent. It was out of place. Was this little one lost? Now what were we supposed to do, damn it? Leave it here living in a drainage pipe? Leave it to be hit by a car or attacked by a coyote? We were near NCSU’s Equine Unit – maybe it was a barn kitty? After five minutes of debate and leg rubbing, my friend suggested that we walk to the nearby houses. I agreed. We turned to go and, chomp. OUCH – the little stinker bit me. Hard! Broke the skin & now it was bleeding. Well, shoot. This was not how I envisioned my afternoon. I grew up with cats. I know that cats bite…but a maniacally friendly-but-possibly-wild-kitty? Uh-uh. I searched my brain for rabies knowledge… drool, aggression, raccoons…bats…stay away. Yep, I knew nothing about rabies. After a panicky Google session and a text exchange with my friend who’s a nurse, I was a rabies expert. It’s a virus that infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. You know, your typical walk-on-the-greenway risk. On the bright side, there was only 1 reported case in a human in the U.S. in ALL of 2014 (according to my recently acquired expertise a la Google). I knew chances were slim that this desperate kitty had rabies, but I headed to Urgent Care. $50 later, I’m talking to a PA.
PA: I’m obligated to tell you that if you are concerned about rabies, we can’t help you here. You’ll need to go the ER.
Me: I wish you’d told me that before I’d paid $50.
PA: We will refund your money if you choose to go to the ER.
Me: That’s RIDICU-what? Oh, well, it’s a good thing. So, to ER or not to ER…hmm, what would you do?
PA: I would stay away from cats.
Me: Ok, let’s say I can’t get my hands on a time machine. If don’t get the rabies shots, what is the incubation period?
PA: If you wait to see if you have rabies, you’re dead.
PA: (Nodded yes)
Me: I heard rabies shots are really expensive – like $500-$1000?
PA: I’m not sure how much they cost.
Me: Why don’t doctors ever know how much stuff costs?
PA: What would you like to do?
The PA had already started cleaning the 4 small punctures on my leg. It didn’t feel like $50 worth of cleaning. And I was beginning to feel like a big hypochondriac.
PA: They say the likelihood of human contracting rabies is like getting bitten by a shark.
Me: There have been 8 shark attacks in North Carolina in the past month.
PA: You didn’t let me finish – but of course I can’t say for sure that you haven’t been exposed to rabies. There is chance. Rather than get the shots (plural), you could also call animal control to pick up the cat to quarantine it for 10 days. You will know for sure then.
PA: Because cats do not survive longer than 10 days if they have been infected with rabies.
Me: I’ve never dealt with Animal Control. I’ve never been bitten like this before.
PA: (Silence. He was done cleaning my leg & with my chatty, indecisive, google- searching ways.)
I called Animal Control and went back to the Equine Unit driveway near the kitty’s drainage pipe to meet them. While waiting, I watched the kitty pounce out at other passersby. They jumped too (see!?)…but then barely paid any attention and kept on cruising. Stupid smart passersby, why didn’t I do that? The official looking Animal Control of Wake County truck approached, whew. The officer was young, female, and a fan of dogs – not cats – she made that clear. She pulled out a humane trap (aka long skinny cage) and set it upright on the ground next to the truck. She put on one glove, walked 25 feet to the drainage pipe and easily picked up the kitty who had jumped out to greet her. She held the cat away from her body, legs dangling, and walked the 25 feet back to the cage. She angled the kitty feet first into the narrow opening. If you know anything about cats, you know this plan was a bust from the start. The cat took one look at its destination and twisted free. It bolted back to its safe tunnel under the driveway. The twenty-something officer said, “I’m only going to give this another 15 minutes.” Um, ok? The officer took a can of food to the drainage pipe. The now wary kitty sat safely at mouth of the small tunnel watching us, interested in the food but unwilling to come forward. The Animal Control officer grabbed a cartoonish hand held net from the truck. I rolled my eyeballs internally. I gave her a .001% chance of catching this cat with a net. She mumbled something again about how dogs are better. “So if you catch the cat, what is the next step?” I asked. “We quarantine it for 10 days – a cat will die within 7-10 days if it is infected with rabies. At the end of the 10 days, we’ll put it down. “ My eyes widened, “Wait, what? Why?” She answered,” We can’t adopt out animals who have bitten someone.” “What if I find a home for it?” I asked. “The only way a bite-cat can be adopted out is if an owner reclaims it.” I was getting frustrated, so I stopped. It was getting dark outside. “Now I’m kind of hoping you DON’T catch the cat,” I said. The officer replied by saying that she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t at least try to catch it. Not surprisingly, she was unsuccessful. She called it a night and planned to return the next day to set a trap. She would return every hour during the day to check the trap. It had been exceedingly hot, even for North Carolina and a cat in a cage wouldn’t last long in the sun, in this heat. I hated the thought of this little critter getting caught in a trap, thrown in jail for 10 days, and then killed because of ME. On the other hand, a viral infection of my nervous system leading to certain death didn’t sound good either. “If we can’t catch the cat, you should consider getting the shots,” she stated. “Do you know how much they cost?” I asked. “They’re a LOT. Like, maybe $1000-$1500.” (seriously, why doesn’t anyone know how much stuff costs?) We exchanged phone numbers and parted ways. She would keep me posted.
**To be continued! To learn the fate of the Umstead kitty, check out Operation Midnight: Bite Neophyte Part Two HERE! **