The scare over a litter of kittens exposed to the rabies virus should not be taken lightly, and it should send a strong message to pet owners.
Friday, officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health released information about four kittens that had been advertised through Tahlequah Online Garage Sale. The animals, about 9 weeks old with black-and-white markings, were picked up in the Walmart Parking lot around Oct. 1. On Oct. 3, one of the kittens developed symptoms consistent with rabies and was euthanized. A postmortem exam confirmed the presence of the virus.
OSDH officials are concerned because, as of Tuesday morning, no one had come forward to admit adopting one of the remaining three kittens. It’s important that people who took in the cats be located, because these animals might also have rabies. The people will likely have to be vaccinated, because if a rabid kitten nipped at a human hand, or its saliva got into a cut or mucous membranes, the virus could be transmitted.
If not treated, rabies is almost always fatal. Although domestic animals don’t often get the virus these days, it’s because their owners generally vaccinate them. In the wild, skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and other mammals carry various strains. And country animals, if unvaccinated, can be vulnerable.
There is some urgency about finding the owners of the kittens, but this should also serve as a teaching moment for anyone who has cats, dogs or other animals – and for anyone who expects to put litters up for adoption.
First of all, Cherokee County Humane Society and other animal welfare groups urge all pet owners to have their animals spayed or neutered, unless those animals are kept for breeding purposes. Some pet owners have been heard to claim they can’t afford surgical procedures. Frankly, if you can’t afford to spay or neuter the pet, you can’t afford to have it to begin with. It’s also inconsiderate to allow a fertile animal to roam free in neighborhoods, where it will certainly breed and add to the already-significant number of strays in Cherokee County.
And secondly, failure to vaccinate pets for deadly diseases such as rabies is the height of irresponsibility. The cost of shots is nominal, and it doesn’t take much time to have an animal vaccinated. Not only will it prevent a beloved pet from suffering a painful death, it will safeguard the human population from similar hazards.
Maybe it’s not a bad idea to contemplate stiff fines for people caught engaging in such reckless behavior.
Here’s a word of advice to well-meaning folks who are pondering a response to one of those “free to a good home” ads. Ask the owner to see shot records, and if the person can’t produce the papers, don’t complete the transaction. Another alternative is to contact the Humane Society, who sees to it that all the animals in its care gets their shots, and for a small fee, spayed or neutered.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know took in a kitten recently, contact the OSDH at (800) 234-5963.