Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 ·
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.
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[From the Eureka Times-Standard, April 30, 2006]

Last week as I performed my morning routine of feeding poultry and horses, I found cats hovering over some small prey. Looking closer, I noted the dark, leathery wing. I was looking at a dead bat, sheared neatly in half.

First impulse was to separate the cats from further contact with the dead bat. Waving them away with one hand, I grabbed a thick clump of tall grass to use as a "pot holder", gingerly lifting the bat by the tip of one wing. I dropped the carcass in a box, set the box in the fridge, and proceeded to scrub up in hot, soapy water. Then I phoned the vet to ask, "What next?".


Brent Whitener, the Environmental Health Department's Vector Control Officer, came out to collect the bat. Standing on our front walkway, he educated us on the basic drill: To test for rabies, the lab must have a complete and undamaged head, fresh enough that sufficient tissue samples can be collected and cultured to give an accurate Yes/No verdict.

If the lab can't get enough undamaged tissue to work from, the bat is presumed positive for rabies. I was hopeful - "my" bat seemed very fresh, with limbs that flexed easily. Brent gave me homework. While the lab tested my bat, I was to check with the vet and see how current my eight cats were on there vaccinations. Piece of cake, I thought...

Next morning, Brent called. "I'm coming out - we need to talk". The bat's tissue was too damaged to test. Which of my cats had been exposed to it, and how well vaccinated were they? I had the answers... Vermina and Bulldog had been vaccinated for rabies, but were behind on their boosters. And Hip-Hop had never been vaccinated for rabies at all!

I was instructed to immediately re-vaccinate all my animals for rabies, and to place all three exposed cats in quarantine. 30 days each for Vermina and Bulldog, 180 days for poor Hip-Hop! Three high-energy felines, accustomed to free range of ten acres, suddenly confined to 2-foot plastic crates. They would remain there until we could provide something roomier.

My husband had to leave for San Francisco. I stayed behind - I had a major project to undertake. First, to dredge and clear stored goods from an upstairs bedroom, to prepare it for conversion to long-term quarantine cattery. Then, to sit down and draw up plans for three separate roomy but secure cat runs.

A friend spent a full day building Kitty Condo #1, five feet by twelve, for Hip-Hop to occupy for his six-month incarceration. I spent all day Friday and Saturday building the other two runs, six feet by 27 inches by eight feet high. Sheet linoleum - earmarked for a kitchen upgrade - was sacrificed to line cattery floors and walls. Cost of materials? About $500. Loss of five days income? Rather not talk about it.

At least we can quarantine our cats at home - it'd cost a fortune to quarantine them elsewhere, and they'd be mighty lonely. The experts conclude that I myself have the most minimal chance of having made contact with the bat. Otherwise, I'd need the series of rabies shots - cost, $3,800!

Perhaps you're like me. Perhaps you have a very busy life, but you're pretty sure you take good care of your animals. I was pretty sure MY cats were current with their vaccinations. Wrong! If a reminder card form the vet arrived during a family crisis, I might say "Right - when I get back from the hospital/funeral/whatever, I'll take care of it right away." And then something else came up...

When an animal comes into our lives, it is our responsibility to care for all of its needs and comforts. They can't call the vet, make the appointment, and drive themselves over. I failed to fulfill my responsibility, and now my beloved cats must bear the consequences.

If I can spare you and your animal companions the distress our household has experienced, perhaps some good can come from all of this. In the meantime, we and our cats have a long and suspenseful, 168-day wait ahead of us...

Call your vet today. Find out if your pets are current with their vaccinations. If they need boosters, make the appointment NOW.


[Elizabeth Berrien is a wire sculptor and wildlife artist. She and her husband Nick Viesselman live in the Freshwater-Bayside are between Eureka and Arcata].
World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 10, 2010 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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