Although I'm usually writing about lessons learned on the farm, today's lesson is something that we always knew when we lived in the suburbs, but somehow we forgot it after eight years out here. Even when I was a little girl, my mother always said that if I ever saw a dog or cat that looked ill or injured, I should leave it alone. But after years of dealing with our own veterinary problems on the farm, seeing an injured, sick cat does not seem like big deal. It is.
Last night after finishing our milk test at 9-something, Katherine was checking out a cat that looked injured and sick. Suddenly it whipped its head around and bit her arm. The first thing that went through my head was that the cat was not vaccinated for rabies, so we took Katherine to the emergency room. The doctor asked about the cat that bit her, and as Mike and I described the cat's condition, the doctor's demeanor became more serious, and we felt dumber and dumber.
He had mustard-like diarrhea and was incontinent. He was dragging his tail, and had visible injuries. The doctor asked how he was walking. I said, "Slowly."
"Was he staggering?" she asked.
"I don't think so."
It was obvious the cat had recently been in a fight. It could have been fighting with another cat, or it could have been fighting with a rabid bat or skunk.
The doctor began to describe the prognosis for rabies. There is no cure for rabies. She said she was aware of one person who survived rabies, and it was after several months in a coma. Based upon the cat's condition, we should start rabies treatment immediately, especially since there was a chance that we might never find the cat and be able to have it tested for rabies.
Katherine looked nervous. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she nodded, saying "Go for it."
I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too."
The good news is that the rabies vaccine is no longer the painful, sickening series of injections into the abdomen that it was 40 years ago. The bad news is that treatment involves more than the vaccine. Katherine received her first rabies vaccine in her left arm, and she said, "Oh, that wasn't bad."
The nurse said she would be back with the immune globulin. She returned with four little bottles. Each one contained two ccs. The contents of one bottle was injected in multiple pokes around the first puncture wound. I lost count of the pokes, but it was more than a dozen. Katherine began to tear up around the sixth or seventh poke, which was when I forgot about counting. The nurse told her she was tough and apologized for having to poke her so many times. After the first bottle was emptied around the first puncture, the nurse filled the syringe with the contents of another bottle for the second puncture wound. She repeated the injections around that wound, while I rubbed Katherine's back and held her hand and tried to take her mind off of it by making jokes.
"Hey, when you go to Wyoming on the biology trip this summer, you'll be able to fight off the wild bears and wolves, since you're vaccinated for rabies now!"
Katherine chuckled through her tears. The nurse said, "Oh, you're going to Wyoming? Where are you going?"
Our efforts to take her mind off the injections were futile. After responding, "Grand Tetons," which was only a partial answer, she complained about how much the injections hurt.
After emptying the second bottle, the nurse said the rest -- 4 ccs -- needed to go in Katherine's hip.
Finally, at 1:30 a.m., we were headed home. We talked about all the cats that are around farms because people dump them in the country when they no longer want them. We have become comfortable with animals that would have sent us scurrying in the other directions eight or nine years ago. Although we only have six or seven cats that come around here regularly, the neighbor has more than 20. I'm sure they feel just as comfortable with stray cats as we do.
It never occurred to us that any of the cats would bite one of us. They don't seem mean. But when an animal is injured or sick, its personality can change drastically -- as everyone's mother has preached. Even I used to say that when we lived in the suburbs! But in the burbs, how often did we see a stray cat? And they certainly did not hang around or come and go for months. There is one cat who sticks around for a few days and disappears for weeks. No one out here gets the cats fixed or vaccinated, because you could spend hundreds of dollars a year on them, and most don't survive a year. They're usually eaten by coyotes or raccoons as soon as they reach sexual maturity and start wandering, looking for a mate. Unfixed males fight viscously with each other.
It seemed that the humane thing to do was feed them, since it didn't cost much, and it kept them out of the woods hunting for wild birds, squirrels, voles, and other little animals to eat. But doing more than that seemed like a foolish waste of money. Now it seems that we only have two responsible choices -- either vaccinate every cat around here for rabies, or call Animal Control and have them picked up.