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Rabid kitten's adoption was rare, Wake health official says

Posted September 22, 2011
Updated September 25, 2011

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— A woman who unwittingly adopted a rabid kitten from Wake County's animal shelter says she was unaware of the potential danger to herself and her other pets when she took the animal home late last month.

Gina Ferris, of Tarboro, adopted the gray tabby, Silverbell, on Aug. 30. Three days later, it died.

"She was very, very playful in the beginning, but she just lost her energy and slowly went paralyzed," Ferris said Thursday. "It's not what you picture in the movies. It's not (like the movie) 'Cujo.'"

Ferris said she wonders if her cat should have been flagged by the animal shelter's staff.

"I rely on other people's good training and judgment to not hand me an animal that is putting my life and others in danger," she said.

Andre Pierce, the director of Wake County's Environmental Health Services, says that what happened with Silverbell is unusual but that any time someone adopts a stray or feral animal, there is always risk involved.

With rabies, the virus can remain dormant for up to six months before an infected animal shows any signs of having it. There are no tests that can accurately diagnose the disease in living animals.

Silverbell had been a feral kitten captured and sent to the Wake County Animal Center on July 29. She was evaluated and then placed into a foster home, Pierce said.

Ferris adopted her on Aug. 30, less than two hours after the cat had been spayed and put up for adoption.

"Anytime you get a stray, whether it's from the shelter or from a friend, you have a risk that an animal has unknown bites, and you may not even be able to see the bites," Pierce said. "So, there is just a risk out there."

As a result of the case, he says, the animal shelter is looking at whether it needs to change its policies regarding the intake of feral and stray animals and how it educates the public about rabies.

Gina Ferris Kitten's owner never suspected rabies

"Anytime we have a situation like, this we certainly go back and look at after-action plans and look at what things may have gone well and what things may not have gone well," Pierce said.

Meanwhile, Ferris says she faces mounting medical bills for an initial dose of human rabies immunoglobulin and up to $8,000 in boarding fees for her two other cats and two dogs that, under state law, must be quarantined for six months because they were exposed to an animal with rabies.

Her dogs were up to date on their rabies vaccination, but she had let them lapse on her cats because they always stay indoors.

Dr. Carl Williams, the state's public health veterinarian, says that, if an animal is given a rabies booster vaccine within five days of exposure, it doesn't have to be quarantined.

Ferris, however, missed the window for the booster. Even though three veterinarians had examined Silverbell, she didn't know the cat had rabies until she had an animal autopsy, called a necropsy, administered.

She now warns others to be careful.

"I don't want more animals to be needlessly put down. I don't want to discourage more people from adopting, but I want to put people out there making the community aware of what's going on," she said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • bluemax4195 Sep 27, 2011

    @larterl. To help answer your question...
    It seems that according to state law, when a "legitimately vaccinated" animal(s) comes into contact with a rabid animal, the vaccinated animal(s) must have a "booster shot" within fives days of exposure. Unfortunately Ms. Ferris was NOT notified within the five day window, thereby forcing her to have her vaccinated pets quarantined! In my opinion, notification of this 5-day window rest squarely on the people who informed her that the kitten was rabid and by NOT DOING SO within that 5-day window, have made themselves liable for Ms. Ferris' incurred extra expenses through having her vaccinated animals quarantined! As I stated all along, I firmly believe this woman should be COMPELTELY compensated for these expenses, which were incurred by NO fault of her own!

  • Fireflies Rock Sep 23, 2011

    I'm not clear why this woman's animals need to be quarantined, as they were apparently current on their rabies vaccines. Isn't quarantine for those animals that aren't current on their vaccines? Give them a booster shot and let them go home! Keeping these animals locked up for 6 months will be very traumatic for them and for the family.

  • peterpepper Sep 23, 2011

    the boarding fees sound high!! over 1 thousand a month for 4 animals ?!
    Good thing the cat was necropsied or Ms. Ferris would be in deep trouble. Hope everyone else who handled the kitten , foster parents etc. are getting the shots for rabies too.

  • bluemax4195 Sep 23, 2011

    @chattycat - No condeming the shelter at all. I just happen think the county "should" shoulder this lady's expenses or (at the least) offer some form of compensation! That said, I'll assume you must think it's appropriate for a county animal shelter to allow someone to adopt a pet, regardless of the risk involved, as to whether the animal was fist checked out or not by the shelter for rabies. And since the article states: "With rabies, the virus can remain dormant for up to six months before an infected animal shows any signs of having it. There are no tests that can accurately diagnose the disease in living animals", my question is... Why didn't the shelter take the responsibility to "quarantine" the animal for 6 months in the first place? Since this incicent is considered "rare", that's why I beleive the shelter should pay this woman's expenses! Hmmm... kind of a catch 22 situation - isn't it?! So in that light, I don't think I'm really out of line here.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 23, 2011

    Adopted after only 2 hours after surgery?????? ikeyboy

    I adopted a dog from WCAC that had just been spayed as well as had some tumors removed and I assure you she was better off coming to my home to be cared for that back to the shelter where she would have gone. They scheduled it that way for that reason. If you took you pet to be spayed the vet would send them home to recuperate unless there were complications.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 23, 2011

    Sorry to say, but the shelter should be providing the quarantine for free for this lady, she did nothing wrong and should not have to pay for this mess.

    I have personally adopted two dogs from the WCAC and I support what they are doing. I feel they really care about the animals, however, as with any shelter, I wouldn't want them to "board" my pets just due to the environment there. Even the best kept shelters has risks of illnesses (especially respiratory, kennel cough, etc...)due to the amount of animals housed there.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 23, 2011

    "Guess all feral animals taken in by shelters need to be quarantined until they pass the incubation period for rabies or can be cleared by some type of a test. RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman"

    Did you not read the article? There is NO test for rabies.

  • chattycat Sep 23, 2011

    @bluemax - I would respectfully disagree with you. She has a LEGAL responsibility to keep her animals utd on rabies vaccines. It is a STATE LAW. And, if the kitten was just spayed, I am sure she was told to keep her separated from her other animals for several days or longer. I really hate this for her, but part of this is her own doing. Doesn't make it any easier, but pet ownership carries responsibilities. Your condemning the shelter is really out of line!

  • gmman Sep 23, 2011

    She should appeal the order that she lock up her animals for 6 months, at least the ones that had been vaccinated. If she can provide a safe isolation at home, she should be able to do so. Also, Wake County should pay this lady's expenses that are directly related to the rabies. Releases aside, right is right.

  • melwatson74 Sep 23, 2011

    The shelter did not make a mistake on her cats and dogs. She should have kept their rabies shots up to date and they would not have to be quarantined. It's state law! She warns others to be careful. The animals at the shelter are strays, so there is no history on them. You never no what you are getting. People with a brain know this.