Rabies Scare

It was a bug-eyed Chihuahua tied to a post outside of the Vons supermarket in Normal Heights. I thought it looked funny and I pointed it out to my 9-year-old girl who then held out her hand for the dog to sniff. The dog yapped and snapped at her, causing her to shriek. It wasn’t more than a nick, but the bite broke her skin and I immediately thought about rabies.

In my circle of acquaintances I had never known of anyone who contracted rabies or had to be treated for it. I can’t even recall seeing a news story about anyone who had died of rabies. For all I knew it was non-existent in the domestic dog population of San Diego. But I did know that if rabies takes hold inside you and you start showing symptoms, you will die.

Any chance, however slim, that my daughter had contracted a deadly disease was something I couldn’t tolerate. The coming few days came with a series of events that left me at peace with what I did but still wondering what I was up against.

I waited outside the store and confronted the dog owner when he came out. I got his phone number and his name. He claimed his dog was current on all his shots but said he couldn’t remember the name of his veterinarian.

I called him the first time and left a message. He didn’t call back. I called him again and said if he didn’t get back to me with the vet’s name I would call county animal control. Didn’t call back. The third time I told him I had called animal control, gave them his name and number and said if I saw his goddamn dog tied up outside of Vons again I’d throw it in my car and take it to the pound.

Leaving a fear-biting dog unattended outside a store is stupid, especially if you can’t prove your dog got its shots. But was I wrong to get worked up about rabies?

The night of the dog bite I was busy googling. The CDC says that wild animals accounted for 92 percent of the known rabies cases in the U.S. in 2010. Raccoons are the most common carrier of rabies nationwide. In San Diego, bats are the most likely animals to test positive. Last year there were six bats in San Diego County found to test positive for rabies. No cats. No dogs. I would later learn from animal control that there hasn’t been a known case of a rabid dog in San Diego County in 40 years.

My wife made an appointment for my daughter to see her pediatrician the day after the dog bite and I took her to the clinic. We had been waiting in the examining room for half an hour when the doc came in. She is a jovial Vietnamese lady, and upon learning my daughter had been bitten by a dog she said in sympathetic tones that the girl should be given an antibiotic.

“OK,” I said, “but I’m not that concerned about the cut being infected. I’m more concerned about her getting rabies.”

Dr. Dow seemed nonplussed. Rabies? You’re afraid she has rabies? Yeah. It’s a deadly disease you know.

Our spoken and unspoken dialogue made it clear to me that it wouldn’t have even occurred to her to treat my daughter for rabies after she was bitten by a Chihuahua. She said the last time she had treated a patient for rabies was when she saw a kid that was bitten by a raccoon.

Due to my concerns she did agree to administer rabies treatment, which turned out to be a shot in the arm and not in the stomach, which is what I’d feared. It’ll take five shots in total. I simply couldn’t see the downside of taking precautions.

I think there is a reason why the state requires you to give your dog rabies shots. I said as much to a co-worker whose wife is a veterinarian, and he also gave me a puzzled look when I told him I assumed all people who treat animals for a living are vaccinated against rabies. He said he wasn’t sure, and it had never occurred to him to wonder whether his wife had been vaccinated.

Only about two people a year get rabies in the U.S. and my kid sure ain’t gonna be one of them.

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