ROGERS PARK — The innocent times of letting your ferret roam carelessly in the streets of Rogers Park are over.
That's because pet owners in the Rogers Park neighborhood are being warned by the city's Animal Care and Control Department that a bat found near 1624 W. Chase Ave., just blocks from Touhy Park, was determined to have rabies by the Illinois Slate Public Health Laboratory.
The ordeal began Saturday night when resident Kimberley Hunt noticed around 9:30 p.m. there was a tear in the screen door that she'd propped open earlier to let in a cool breeze.
By Sunday morning, Hunt said she awoke to find a "terrifying" surprise in the middle of her living room floor: the dead bat's body.
"This has been a nightmare," Hunt said, adding that she owns a couple of cats and a small dog. "The bat was in my house while I was sleeping. I can't get that out of my head. It came into my home."
She said after realizing what the creature was around 8 a.m., and experiencing a brief moment of "hysteria," she rounded up her cats and put them in a secure room before leashing her dog and waiting for Animal Care and Control to arrive.
When they didn't show up by 10:30 a.m., Hunt said her landlord offered to scoop up and remove the bat from her apartment for her. Finally, just before noon, the agency arrived to retrieve the bat.
She said both the emergency vet she called in Skokie and the Animal Conrol worker she spoke with seemed relieved the bat was already dead, and assured her the chances of it testing positive for rabies were slim. Still, she took every precaution given by both animal experts.
As the Animal Control employee left, he told her she would get a letter if the bat was found to be rabid.
On Tuesday, she got a call from Animal Control who wanted to make sure she hadn't handled the bat at all. That's when she got some unwelcome news.
"He said, 'You do know the bat was rabid, right?' And I just lost it," Hunt said.
She said the man was "extremely helpful" and walked her though the appropriate steps of cleaning, signs to watch for in her unvaccinated indoor cats and what to do in the event it should happen again.
She said through the whole incident, she's learned a lot about the importance of keeping even indoor cats up-to-date on rabies innoculations, noting her cats had received the shots before but were not current. Luckily, she said her dog was.
But the ordeal is far from over, she said.
Because Hunt does not know how the bat died, she cannot rule out that her cats may have touched it, killed it, or had general exposure to it. Because they have at least some prior vaccination history, she said the county did not demand they be euthanized but rather quarantined for six months as they're monitored for signs of rabies.
The waiting game has been the hardest part, Hunt said, who feels guilty that she never considered a rabid animal could get into her house. She said she's raised her cats since they were only weeks old.
"People have no idea how serious this is — and how terrifying," Hunt said. "If my ignorance now costs [my cats] their lives, I don't know how I will be able to live with it."
She said she wants to strongly encourage people to keep their pets current on rabies vaccinations and to call 311 immediately. She said this is the third bat that's been found in her building, but the first that she knows of to have rabies. Sometimes bats can enter residences through chimneys, she said.
In a memo, the agency encourages residents to follow a three-pronged anti-rabies system:
1. Keep all cats, dogs and ferrets leashed when outside.
2. If your pet has not been vaccinated against rabies, make an appointment and innoculate soon.
3. Try to avoid handling any wild bats or animals whenever possible.
If any bats are found, the department is asking residents call the City of Chicago at 311, who will inform Animal Control.
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