Kitten’s bite pains cat lover in more ways than one

Published 11:17 am Friday, July 18, 2014

CARRSVILLE—Rosa Duke has recently learned that handling stray animals can have painful and expensive consequences.

Rosa Duke of Jenkins Mill Road near Carrsville shows the bandages where a kitten severely bit and scratched her. The animal is in quarantine, and Duke is undergoing a series of vaccinations to prevent rabies. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

Rosa Duke of Jenkins Mill Road near Carrsville shows the bandages where a kitten severely bit and scratched her. The animal is in quarantine, and Duke is undergoing a series of vaccinations to prevent rabies. — STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

The Jenkins Mill Road resident in Isle of Wight County is undergoing a series of rabies shots after a 2-1/2 month-old kitten she tried to rescue severely bit and scratched her earlier this week. Duke said this experience has been hurtful emotionally as well as physically.

“I’ve never had a cat to bite me before,” said the 73-year-old. “I love cats. I always have.”

Her son had first alerted Duke to the presence of the animal outside.

“It was dropped off Sunday and I tried to get it from a shed on Monday. I could hear it mewing,” she said. “I wish I hadn’t put my hands on him, he wouldn’t turn me loose. I learned the hard way. Why in the world I didn’t think to take a fishing net.”

IOW Animal Control was called and came out to get the kitten, which is being quarantined for 10 days. The officers are watching for signs of rabies, which can be fatal to both animals and humans if not treated in a timely way.

“I feel so sorry for him I don’t know what to do,” added Duke.

The attack hasn’t diminished her fondness for the animals, but it has reaffirmed her decision to no longer accept cats that people drop off at her home. Duke’s aware that over the years she’d gained a reputation as an animal lover. That, she thinks, has encouraged area residents in the past to abandon their cats — no one’s ever left dogs — on her lawn rather than take them to the SPCA or Animal Control.

“I just don’t understand why people do that,” she said. “I don’t want any more cats. I can’t take care of them. I’m just too old now to raise animals.”

When Trixie II dies, that will be her last dog, added Duke. A couple of her cats in the past were named Oreo I and Oreo II. The first was black with a round spot.

“He looked like an Oreo cookie,” she said with a warm chuckle.

Before this week’s incident, Duke would set out food if she saw an abandoned or stray cat on her property. If the animal took to it, she knew it was approachable. Once it was clear the feline was there to stay, she took it for spaying or neutering and rabies shots.

Duke said she wants to share her experience not only because she can’t take care of abandoned cats and dogs, but also to urge people to take responsibility for their own pets.

“They should take them to the SPCA if they can’t handle them, rather than drop them off,” Duke said, adding that’s her preference over animal control. “I’ve seen ‘em fed, died, buried. I didn’t kill them.”

Meanwhile, she’s enduring the vaccinations and they haven’t been pleasant for her.

“The shots make you sick,” she said.

Contacted about Duke’s painful episode, three animal control directors in Western Tidewater each said that demonstrated a lesson they want to get across to the public:

“You should never attempt to handle animals you know don’t belong to you,” said IOW Chief Animal Control Officer Larry Wilson. “For all intents and purposes, they’ll react with claws and teeth. So it’s imperative to attempt to trap versus handle.”

Wilson’s department has traps available for the weekdays, and tells people to place them in a shady part of the yard and provide water, “especially this time of year with the heat and sudden rain showers.”

He or staff member can come out Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to pick them up if an animal is caught. This service is not available on weekends, though.

He urges parents to teach their children in particular not to approach or pick up cats or dogs. Kittens, added Wilson, can have even nastier bites than the adults.

“You just can’t take for granted they were somebody’s pets,” he said.

Southampton Animal Control Officer David Joyner also asks people to contact his department if they come across either a stray domesticated animal or wildlife.

“We recommend they call and let us handle it,” said Joyner. He explained that catching or trapping the animals means these can be tested for rabies.

“If I can’t find it, there’s no way of knowing,” he said.

If the animal runs off after a person has been hurt, then rabies vaccines will most likely be needed.

“Waiting is never a good choice,” added Wilson.

The symptoms of rabies in animals can become evident within 10 days, and up to six months before people can show signs, Joyner said.

The virus is not contagious until it reaches the animal’s brain.

“Once it’s in the brain, there’s no cure,” he said.

In his experience, Officer Roy Richards of Franklin Animal Control rarely deals with wildlife, such as foxes, raccoons and skunks.

“Maybe two cases a year. Usually they’re picked up dead,” he said. “They’re not often picked up alive.”

An immunized pet that’s been exposed will get quarantined for 10 days and given booster shots.

Richards cited state law that any dog or cat with an expired vaccination that is exposed could be quarantined in a double cage and no contact with humans for six months.

As mentioned earlier, the cost of rabies shots for people can be high. He said a booster shot for a human previously immunized can cost $500 to $600. The rabies shots — a series of four on the first, seventh, 14th and 21st day — can cost $1,500. The vaccinations are no longer given in the stomach; three are in an arm, and one in the hip.

To learn more, contact any of the following:

n Isle of Wight Animal Control: 356-1971

n Southampton Animal Control: Call 653-2100 and a dispatcher will notify Joyner directly.

n Franklin Animal Control: 562-8605