Otis is my 3-year-old cat, a neutered and fully-vaccinated male that we rescued at five days of age after abandonment by his mother. Other than when crated for veterinarian visits, Otis and his sibling have spent their entire lives indoors. While scores of semi-feral, possibly diseased cats roam our neighborhood and use my flowers for a toilet, my cats have no interactions with my neighbors.
Imagine my surprise when I learned Turlock officials have deemed Otis a potential hazard. He was recently placed under a 10-day home quarantine (minus electronic ankle bracelet used to keep track of other dangerous criminals) and had to be segregated if others visit my home. When the quarantine ends, an ID chip must be inserted under his skin for tracking by Turlock Animal Control. He’ll have a record and I’ll be charge a $25 quarantine fee plus the cost of the chip.
What did Otis do? Maul a guest in my home like a lion downing a wildebeest on the Serengeti? Learn to disarm our alarm system and sneak out at night to terrorize the villagers? No! My wife was playing fetch with him on our bed, as she does every day.
Usually she flicks a hair band, he catches it in his mouth and brings it back. One time, she didn’t flick it very far, so she reached out to get it about the time he was lunging to catch it. One of his teeth collided with her pointer finger and left a mark about the size of a half-grain of rice. It didn’t even bleed much, so she washed it, applied antiseptic and continued the game.
But cat spit being what it is and cats licking what they lick, the next day her finger was swollen a little and was red and hot. Exercising abundant caution, she went to the urgent care where she told the doctor what honestly happened … and used the “B” word, bite. That’s all it took.
I’m told once “bite” is spoken, it’s out of the doctor’s hands. He must report it to Animal Control. It’s state law to protect against rabies. But Otis has had all his shots including for rabies. Doesn’t matter.
The doctor’s report launched Animal Control’s quarantine; it’s a disease issue. But I have all his vaccination records including rabies. Doesn’t matter. It’s the law and there is no discretion, I’m told.
In the law’s eyes, there is no difference between a vicious, aggressive bite to a stranger in public from an intact, non-vaccinated, off-leash, snarling Rottweiler and a mistaken nip of my wife in our bedroom during play by my neutered, vaccinated, homebound cat. Vastly different situations, but the same law, no discretion.
So I spoke to my friend, Councilman Forrest White, who encouraged me to talk to city staff. I spoke to Animal Control Supervisor Glena Jackson, who referred me to her boss, Police Capt. Carl Nielsen. He explained that the ordinance’s wording allowed no discretion and referred me to City Hall. There I spoke with City Manager Roy Wasden, who said he understood my frustration but said the city is bound to administer the state’s animal rules without discretion, and receives state money to do so.
Wasden termed my situation an “anomaly;” in other words, the unintended consequence of a well-meaning law. That’s like saying a dolphin caught in a net is the unintended consequence of a well-meaning tuna fisherman.
In short, we’re busted for playing with our own cat in our own home after having done all the right things to insure that he isn’t a hazards to anyone.
All this bureaucracy, I’m told, is in place to protect society against the spread of rabies, but vaccinating cats for rabies isn’t required in Turlock. Oh, the irony. If the goal is to stop rabies, which I can’t imagine anyone would oppose, then why not cut the red tape for already-vaccinated cats like Otis and require all others to be vaccinated?
By the way, each of the public servants with whom I spoke was polite, understanding and as responsive as they felt the law allows them to be. I greatly respect them and the job they do … but my cat is still a criminal under house arrest based on the ordinance they passed and administer.
So what could I have done differently?
We could have avoided playing with our cat. If you’re never near them, you probably won’t be nicked. But our cats are part of our family. We are going to play with them.
Ideally, we could have disinfected the wound better, but you just never know. Cat spit is nasty stuff.
We could have lied to the doctor. No bite, means no mandated bite report. But the fact is, doctors use a different drug for bite than a scratch so lying wouldn’t be prudent, not to mention unethical. Why would a reasonable law promote lying to our doctor?
Or, I could write this letter encouraging officials to push for the ability to use the common sense for which we hire them. I could urge a revisiting of the ordinance, to make a distinction between an unvaccinated, aggressive beast marauding on public property and a vaccinated, neutered housecat who mistook my wife’s finger for part of its toy.
But maybe that’s not possible either. Maybe we have allowed our government to get so big and so wrapped up in codes and mandates that common sense no longer has a place.
So I guess I have no choice but to pay the fine and fees for installing chip to keep track of “Otis, the convict cat.” Do you think Animal Control will drop by with their chip scanner the next time I can’t find him under my bed? I’m also going to continue to play with my cat, but I sure don’t plan on inviting city leaders into my bedroom to watch me do it. And nobody in my family will ever use the “B” word again.
— Bob Crawford