Last week we had fun with dogs and cats. This week there is nothing to laugh about—I am writing about of rabies. On Saturday I will be 74, and in 1957 I was 10. I thought anything Disney was wonderful, but that was the year “Old Yeller” came out. It is about a family’s much-loved dog, and takes place in Texas right after the Civil War. It was my first look into rabies, and this tearjerker of a movie made sure that anyone who saw it never forgot. The boy ends up shooting Old Yeller, who became rabid saving the family from an infected bear. I went right home and hugged my best dog ever, Tippy. But time has rolled by and we forget how bad rabies can be.
Last night we watched a British episode of “Heartbeat,” which takes place in rural England in the 1960s. A medical doctor is married to one of the police in this little farming community. A traveling family, with a dog, and small boy, comes through with a car and caravan, which is what the Brits call a motorhome. The dog gets loose and brings chaos to the entire town. If you think we are strict? In Britain you must animals you bring in the country quarantined. They did not. Packs of hunting dogs were almost subject to being killed, a man from the garage who gassed up the car was stricken, and it showed how you die with rabies. It was terrifying.
They sent for the military to help kill all the rabbits and foxes and any animal that got loose. The town wanted to kill all the animals. They found the boy, with the dog which had just bitten him, but they got vaccine to the child after they shot the dog. This was a show—however, it showed how people treated rabies as late as the 1960s.
In Albuquerque 30 years ago a friend of mine, Betty Smith, who was a nurse, reached up to turn off her backyard lights, and a bat landed on her hand and bit her. She rushed to the hospital for shots, since as many as 92% of bats carry rabies—and they had to send to Texas for the serum. As many as 65% of skunks carry rabies. They are cute little woodland creatures, but they can carry death. Back to the reason for today’s column. Get your animals vaccinated against rabies! They have clinics with low cost and what is it worth to you? Life or death.
Years ago, when our sons were 5 and 7, we were camped, on the 4th of July, up in Colorado by the Piedra. At 11 in the morning a bat landed on my oldest son Will who, thank God, was wearing new Levis. He felt it grab him on the butt and he swatted it off with a model of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. That toy saved his life. Bill jumped up and shot the bat, but the bullets went through his wings. No bat to take to the doctor, and at that age the serum was dangerous, but without it, he could have had the fatal disease. Did Will have get saliva near his eyes or nose? I saw it happen and had to decide yes or no.
The doctor felt he had not been bitten, but the saliva was a problem. I bet my son’s life that he had not rubbed his eyes. It could get him over a year later if I was wrong. I was not, and Will is now 47 and Tom is 45. We cannot inoculate all the bats or skunks, and all mammals can get rabies. This is a cautionary tale. Don’t risk it! The worst horror movie I have seen was watching that guy die from it. Medicine is wonderful, most of us are being saved by a simple shot or two. I have had both.
How do we show love to our faithful pets for whom we are responsible? Heed the warning. Make sure your pets have rabies shots. Roaring Mouse, thinking of Old Yeller. Out.