Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dear BOCS: Do I have rabies?

An Open Letter to Prince William County Board of County Supervisors

Dear Board:

I am writing to alert you to a bizarre situation that led to a realization.

Early Sunday evening, April 7, my husband and I were scratched and punctured by highly aggressive cats who charged out of some bushes, first attacking our dog and then us when we tried to stop them.  We called animal control immediately, and because animal control was closed, we received their voicemail telling us to call the police, which we did immediately.  A police officer came to our home to take a report.

Yesterday, Wednesday, April 10th, at our home, we received messages from the Health Department and animal control that we needed to come in or go to the ER for rabies inoculations.  Apparently, they had called earlier in the day, but we did not receive the messages until late that evening.

I don't know how much you know about rabies, but the incubation time is 48 hours, during which a bite or scratched victim should be inoculated against this deadly disease.  While it is rare for a cat to have rabies and spread it to humans through scratches and punctures, this is a concern not only for us but for the county.

Animal control must defer to the police department after hours, and while the police can investigate a situation to a certain degree, they most certainly cannot be expected to play "animal cop" or health advisor because the county will not spend money to pay for an after-hours, on-call animal control officer or a health professional capable of giving advice.  By the time animal control and the health department can respond, the damage has been done and the animals are probably still at bay. It is not only a health concern but a legal liability not to have animal control officers and medical advisors immediately available after hours.

This being budget time, I do hope you will consider additional funding for animal control, which would cost the county very little and potentially save lives, as well as reduce the risk of lawsuit.  The police should not be put in the position of having to make health-related recommendations.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

Katherine Gotthardt
Brentsville District

UPDATE:  According to the Health Department with whom I spoke this morning, it's not too late to get the vaccine, which is good news.  However, my husband and I were directed to go to the ER today, which we will. 

UPDATE #2:  The following is the timely, informative (kudos) response I received from Animal Control, which I answered.

Ms. Gotthardt :

Thank you for your comments regarding Animal Control and your support of our bureau.

Animal Control is available to respond on a 24 hour basis.  Normal working hours are from 10am to 8pm at which point an Animal Control Officer (ACO) is designated “on-call” until 10am the next morning.  The on-call ACO is equipped with an Animal Control vehicle with all the tools and medications they may need to handle after-hours emergencies.  Police officers are aware of the on-call availability of Animal Control as needed.  However, it is not uncommon for police officers to complete an animal exposure/bite investigation.

These hours are different from the Animal Shelter which is not open 24 hours but does have an answering machine providing information during closed periods.  The message does provide information to report an Animal Control incident, which is always routed through the Police/Fire non-emergency telephone number, regardless of the time of day.

The Police Department, which oversees the Animal Control function, reports all incidents of potential rabies exposure to the Health Department and follows Health Department protocols for quarantine of animals involved in bites and scratches.  Any recommendation for human medical treatment comes from the Health Department, under the direction of licensed physicians, not Animal Control.  The affected individual may at any time seek medical advice or treatment at the provider of his/her choice.  Animal Control does not offer medical advice.  We refer all rabies exposure victims to the Health Department and provide the contact information.

Please feel free to contact me through this email address or by phone at 703-792-6463 with any questions you may have.  I hope your injuries have healed and that your dog is doing well through the quarantine period and has recovered from any injuries it may have sustained during the attack.

Captain Dawn M. Harman
Director, Animal Control Bureau
Prince William County Police Department
desk:  (703) 792-6463     fax:  (703) 791-6710

Officer Harman, thank you for getting back to me.  I think the issue is there was a lag between the time of the incident and the time we got the message. More than 48 hours had elapsed by the time we knew we should go to the hospital.  If we were sick, there would obviously be a big issue.  I know officers are not allowed to give medical advice, but I wonder if there's a way to eliminate that lag time.  Apparently, the Health Department didn't get the message until yesterday.

I am sure our dog will be okay--she had her rabies shot in January.  And my husband and I survived the first round of our own shots.  We have four more visits to go.

Again, thank you. 

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, Author

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