It’s 11:33 on Friday morning, and I’m waiting for the phone to ring. I’d be lying if I said the anxiety’s killing me, but also can’t deny that I really, really hope to hear some positive news.
Here’s the story, or as much of it as I know so far. The night before last, around 2 AM, our dog and cat started racing around the house. This isn’t entirely uncommon, as chasing each other is one of their games, and occasionally, they enjoy playing in the middle of the night. However, even from the quiet side of my bedroom door–and mind you, I was half asleep–the play sounded a little more raucous than normal. Then I heard something that sounded like a screech. Oh god, I thought. Did the dog hurt the cat?
I got up to investigate. The dog was sitting calmly outside my door, and the cat was in the living room, looking a bit smug, but peaceful. It struck me as a little weird that they were so still, when just seconds earlier they’d been tearing around, but hey, they’re animals.
So I went back to bed. But not fifteen minutes later, the wild rumpus started up again. Then, the dog started scratching on our bedroom door, which he does when he needs to go outside, or if he’s frightened by something like a thunderstorm.
Darn! He probably got himself so worked up that he needs to go to the bathroom. And it’s almost 3 AM. That’s what I was thinking as I opened the door, but the dog just stared at me, then turned to the cat in the living room. So I took a closer look at the cat. He still had that smug look on his face. But what was that dark thing next to him on the floor? A wing? Did a bird somehow get into the house? As I got closer, I heard some sad chirping, but that wing! It didn’t have feathers, and it was sort of scalloped, and…yes, it was a bat’s wing, attached to a very injured little bat. As I stared in horror, the cat leaned over and started licking it, torturing the poor creature that was already mortally wounded.
I wish I could tell you I was bold and calm, but I freaked out and immediately woke up my husband. And like the good husband he is, Mike got up, covered his hands in plastic bags, and used an old dishrag to pick up the bat and put it in the back yard. It was alive, but bats carry rabies and other diseases, and neither of us was comfortable keeping it in the house, especially since we have kids–not to mention the cat, who couldn’t understand why we’d be so cruel as to take away his plaything.
First thing in the morning, though, I went outside and checked on the little fellow. It looked awful but was still alive, so I called animal control and they came and took it to be rabies tested. Mercifully, they also euthanized it.
So what does this mean for my family and pets? Well, very little if the bat tests negative for rabies. But if it tests positive, we humans will need prophylactic rabies shots, and the animals (who were up to date on their vaccines and got additional rabies boosters yesterday) will need to be quarantined for 45 days. In other words, they can’t come into contact with unvaccinated humans during that period, or have any contact at all with other animals, even animals who have been vaccinated for rabies. The dog can be walked a couple of times a day, but people and other dogs can’t be allowed to touch him. Apparently, current rabies vaccines are excellent but not perfect, so any animal who’s been directly exposed to rabies presents a threat to the community.
And if this seems a little over the top, consider this: if a human or animal actually contracts rabies, they will die of it; it’s a fatal disease with no cure. So of course, if either my cat or dog were to come down with rabies symptoms during those 45 days, he’d have to be euthanized.
So wow. I learned a lot about rabies in a very short time. And yes, I’m really hoping the animal control person calls soon with good news about the bat.
If it’s bad news, though, we’ll get the shots, do the quarantine, and keep our fingers crossed that everyone else will remain healthy.
But for what it’s worth, here are a couple of tips that might help other people avoid this situation–or a worse one:
- Make sure there are no little openings into your home. Our house is over 200 years old, and yet, we’ve never had a bat during the fifteen years we’ve lived here. So why now? After all the drama was over yesterday, I checked our window screens and noticed that a few were loose. And the cat had opened a couple of them an inch or so (he often sits in the window, watching birds) and a bat doesn’t need a very big opening to enter your home.
- Be ABSOLUTELY certain that your pets are up to date on rabies vaccinations. The only reason our animals will “get lucky” with a 45-day quarantine (if the bat turns out to be rabies positive) is because their vaccinations are current. Animals without current rabies vaccinations need to be quarantined for six months (in Massachusetts anyway) if they’ve been exposed to a rabid animal.
- Be careful about leaving doors into your house open on summer evenings. According to the animal control officer, August is a big month for bats entering homes, and it’s also a big month for rabies. (Again, I’m talking about Massachusetts and the Northeast part of the US). The animal officer explained that as evening temperatures get cooler, bats are drawn to the warmth of peoples’ homes. Earlier in the evening of our bat episode, I was sweeping out my hallway, and left the door to the outside open for about ten minutes. It’s quite possible that the bat flew in right over my head and roosted somewhere for a while before catching the attention of our pets.
OK, well that’s it for now. C’mom, phone, ring!! I’d like to know what’s going on, one way or another. I’ll make sure to add an update to the comments section when we get some news. Until then, please keep your fingers crossed, and do your best to avoid bats and rabies.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Just half an hour after publishing this post, the animal officer called to say the bat was rabies negative. YAY!! I’m feeling very grateful right now. But we’ve all learned some valuable lessons, and I’ve temporarily duct taped the window screens so the cat can’t open them. We’ll be getting new ones soon. Thanks to all of you for reading, and may you always stay rabies-free. xo, Mary