I occasionally ask this question when I find myself mentally reviewing some of the cases I have had in the past. It is very difficult to study and practice Veterinary Medicine without forming an opinion on this matter. However, let me tell you about a case I had back in the ‘50s, then you can make up your own mind.
This story begins with a phone call I received during the noon hour on a hot Saturday afternoon in August. A client who farmed about two miles north of town informed me that he had a “sick cow.” She was in the stanchion and he would like me to check her as soon after dinner as I could.
Right after dinner I drove to his place to examine the cow. This was a typical farm of the middle ‘50s time period. The buildings consisted of a house, big red barn, hog house, garage, chicken house, machine shed and a few small outbuildings.
The client farmed about a quarter-section and, like most farmers of the era, he milked a few cows, had some hogs, fed 20 or 30 steers and kept several hundred chickens. In the grove was a small flock of sheep; just to keep the weeds down. On the yard there was a big old friendly black shepherd-cross dog patrolling the area, keeping everything in order. The barn and outbuildings were home to several non-descript cats.
The farmer met me as I got out of the car and together we headed for the barn to check the cow. As we walked to the barn door, he informed me that he and his family were leaving that afternoon to spend a week vacationing in the Black Hills area. He told me that he had noticed the cow was not feeling well as she had lain down most of the morning. He had gotten her into the barn and called for me as a neighbor was to do the milking and other chores and he wanted to know about the cow before he and his family left on vacation.
We reached the barn door and the client entered the building ahead of me. As I stepped over the sill and entered the barn, I saw just to my left a half-grown gray kitten lying dead on the floor.
As I was examining the cow, I casually remarked to the farmer that I had seen the dead kitten by the door. I remarked that it might have died from “cat distemper” as this condition often becomes endemic in the fall and spreads from farm to farm infecting and killing many of the susceptible young cats and kittens.
As I left the barn to get some medicine to treat the cow, the farmer followed me out. He paused by the doorway to examine the dead kitten. “Yes,” he said, “that’s the kitten that showed up here about 10 days ago. It was sick and it disappeared about two days ago and I never saw it again until now.”
My ears perked right up at this little bit of information and as I was getting some medicine for the Holstein, I continued to quiz the farmer.
The story unfolded and went like this: It seems as if their children had found this sick kitten in the barn about 10 days ago. It was not feeling well and could not swallow the milk which the children had tried to feed it. During the course of a week or so the neighbor kids and several others had been involved in trying to feed the cat. While handling the kitten some of the children had been scratched or bitten. The farmer had his thumb bitten. He showed me where a tooth had penetrated the nail leaving a small black dot at the point of entry.
He reiterated that the cat had disappeared about two or three days ago and that he had not seen it until now.
After I finished treating the cow I put on some rubber gloves and placed the cat in a plastic bag which I later stored in the office refrigerator.
It just so happened that my wife’s brother was visiting over the weekend. On Sunday evening I sent the deceased kitten to Ames, Iowa, with him. I gave him specific instructions to take it, along with a letter I had written, to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab located at that time at the Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine.
The dead cat was delivered to the lab early on Monday morning. Sometime in the afternoon I received a phone call from them which informed me the kitten had died of rabies. The lab also recommended that anyone who had been scratched or bitten or had come into close physical contact with the kitten should immediately talk with their doctor and receive the vaccination for rabies. At that time, this consisted of 14 shots in the abdominal area. This series of “shots” was very painful and was not without a chance of some serious repercussions.
By the following day, all of the exposed parties had been contacted and arrangements made for their immediate vaccination programs to start, except the farmer and his family. They were vacationing in the Black Hills and locating them was a bit of a problem.
The following day they were contacted and had to return home immediately for their vaccinations.
A total of seven people, mostly children, received the 14-shot rabies vaccination. Without the vaccination program, surely a good number of these people would have developed rabies and died.
If “good luck “played a part in this story, what would “luck” have been responsible for?
“Lucky” that the dairy cow was sick after it was milked in the morning.
“Lucky” that the farmer saw the sick cow. Usually the cows are not checked again until evening.
“Lucky” that he called me and stayed home to find out what was wrong with the cow. If he had left with his family I would never have known the history of the cat.
“Lucky” that I saw the dead kitten at all.
“Lucky” the cat died by the door where I could see it. It could have died anywhere on the farm.
“Lucky” that my brother-in-law could take the cat to the lab, saving probably three days in the diagnosis.
“Lucky” that the farmer and his family were quickly found and returned home for their vaccinations. Four of the children and the father had been bitten by the sick cat. It was imperative to have these people vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent them from developing rabies.
“Lucky” that I thought of rabies and questioned the farmer. I could have thought “awe, just another dead cat” as cat distemper is very common here at that time of the year and many farmers experience a high death loss in their unvaccinated cats.
You may believe that “good luck” played the major role in bringing this story to a successful end; or you may chose to believe that some other higher power was dealt a hand to play in this great game of life or death.
Whichever theory you subscribe to you may be correct, but after reviewing the facts, I have made up my mind, and I know I am right!