McCOOK, Nebraska -- The owner of the dog that bit a mail carrier in July was informed five days following the event that the animal had been euthanized. Deeply saddened by the loss of her longtime pet, 20-year-old Ashley Sundquist told the Gazette that the story previously printed, "made my dog sound like a monster, he was not a monster."
Sundquist said the mailman that was bitten by her dog had petted the animal on numerous occasions prior to the incident. "He was trained to not need a leash and would go maybe 10 feet from the yard and come back," said Sundquist, who was sitting on her front porch at the time of the incident. She said the dog was "doing his business," by a bush bordering her yard and the neighbors, when the next thing she knew the dog was barking and the mailman was striking at him.
Sundquist said she grabbed the dog and took it inside, at the time commenting to the dog, loud enough for the mailman to hear, "yes, I would try to take someone's arm off if they were hitting me too."
According to Sundquist, the mail carrier made no comment to her and continued delivering his mail. She said she had no idea he had been bitten until later when the police arrived to take her dog.
Sundquist had inherited the black Labrador retriever from her step-father, Neil Sims of McCook, who was equally saddened and frustrated by the incident.
Sims said he was told by City Attorney Nate Schneider that the animal was euthanized as a necessity to check for rabies.
It was discovered after the animal was taken into custody that it had not received a rabies booster, that was due in October 2010. Following euthanization of the dog, an unfortunate requirement of the procedure, the rabies test came back negative.
According to Chief of Police Isaac Brown, the faster than usual euthanization of the dog was a result of practice changes of the police department. Those changes came about based on what health officials have said regarding risk to bite victims during a 10 day waiting period.
Sims voiced concerns that a 10 day waiting period could have been utilized to determine if the animal had rabies. Rabies is a fatal viral disease and typically kills cats and dogs within 10 days of contracting it. However, because a man had already been bitten by the dog, that would have placed the victim at risk during the waiting period. "Our primary responsibility is to protect the people, the victims," explained Brown, adding that putting a victim of a dog bite at fatal risk for 10 days was simply not an option.
Brown said that the practice going forward, when someone is bitten by an animal and it cannot be determined that it has had its current rabies vaccination, will be to euthanize it and test for rabies as soon as is practical. If it is not immediately known whether or not it has received a current rabies vaccination, that will be part of the investigation into the incident, said Brown. Investigators will err on the side of caution and euthanize after five days "if that is what we have to do," said Brown.
No citations have been issued to Sundquist as a result of the incident, but Brown would not rule out the possibility of one pending. The investigation is still ongoing, with witnesses being sought and interviews yet to be conducted, according to Brown.
"The solution is obvious, pet owners have to be responsible to get proper vaccination and continue to get the updates every three years as is necessary," said Brown.
In 2009 a company began marketing a saliva test for dogs and cats that was hailed as an effective non-lethal test that could reduce the number of animals euthanized in the name of rabies testing. Unfortunately, such saliva tests have not yet proven to be 100 percent accurate, with state health departments agreeing with Brown, when dealing with a fatal disease no avoidable risk to human life is acceptable.
So far in 2011 there have been 22 confirmed cases of rabies in Nebraska. Of the 22, 14 were skunk related, three were horses, two bats, one calf, one cat and one cow. None were dog related. The majority of the cases focused on pets coming in contact with the infected animal, only five were human contact related and none of those involved a skunk.