Rabid kitten's adoption was rare, Wake health official says
Posted September 22, 2011
Updated September 25, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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.