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Rabies Scare: A True Story From an American Farm

Updated on October 29, 2019
Laura in Denver profile image

This is a story about a visit to my Dad's Brother's farmhouse and the agitation about rabies when my sister was bitten by a groundhog..

A Cat as Predator

A cat zeroing in on some prey.
A cat zeroing in on some prey. | Source

Another Farm Nostalgia Story

Americans are often nostalgic about early farm life, yet discount some of the ever-present dangers it can present. Along with the livestock, there are many other critters making their homes in the fields, including some with rabies. Here is another true story set at the farmhouse my father was born at in the Great Depression.

After my father left farming for an engineering occupation, my Uncle Don and Grandma still tended to the farm which had been in the family since the 1850s. Grandpa died when I was but a wee toddler and, sadly, I remember him not at all. But I fondly remember summers spent at the farm as they were a real highlight for me growing up.

This particular summer was no different except my little sister had been born and was going for the first or second time. She was curious, like most three-year-olds, and particularly loved the many cats that lived under the back steps of the farmhouse.

Now, Grandma was a very practical woman and you could say that these were "working cats". Grandma did feed them slops leftover from the table, but she expected the cats to earn their keep by ridding the nearby fields of mice and other pests.

Most, but not all of the cats were friendly to the family. There were a few that kept their distance, however, most of them liked being stroked there under the steps. But when they were after mice and other rodents for a bit of protein, they certainly had a different side to their personalities. Which was, you could say, downright predatory!

Curiosity got the cat

As I said, Sis was intrigued by the cats on the farm. Mom was allergic to cats, so we never had any at our house and so right away Sis spent a lot of time with them. And, of course, a pre-school child is pretty adventurous and not always cautious enough.

One day, one of the cats had taken a catch from the field under the steps. As predatory animals will often do, it played with the "victim", a ground squirrel, after paralyzing its hind legs. (Please don't set PETA or the ASPCA on me, now! Remember these were mousing cats and this was a working farm.)

I can tell you know where this is going. Sis put her hand under the steps to pet the little "kitten", but found out quickly it was *not* a kitten when it sank its teeth into her hand! It was a cornered and extremely frightened ground squirrel! Sis immediately started hollering and we who were in the vicinity came running. There was such a commotion, it made my head spin!

My Uncle Don was the first on the scene. He wrestled the ground squirrel away from the torturous cat. Then, he grabbed the pocketknife out of his overalls and put a quick end to its misery. But now there was the question of rabies or other disease since there was a distinct possibility the animal could be sick. Grandma got a shoebox in which to put the squirrel for the time being.

As Mom calmed down my screaming sister, Grandma phoned the county health department and asked what to do. She was instructed to have somebody take the animal to a particular lab so that it could be tested for disease. The uproar was beginning to calm down a bit at that point, but everybody was still worried pending this outcome.

Off to the doctor

Uncle Don and Dad then loaded Sis into the truck to go to office of the local doctor in a nearby town. Obviously, the doctor would have to assess the wound, which broke the skin. Then the doctor cleaned the wound and disinfected it. Dad remembers the doctor giving Sis a precautionary rabies shot until lab results could confirm the health of the ground squirrel.

After the visit at the doctor's office, Uncle Don and Dad dropped the shoebox with the squirrel in it at the lab specified by the county health department. Now it was time to wait for the results. A negative result would save my sister much pain as I think more rabies shots would be indicated were the animal sick.

A day or two later, the lab results came in to my anxious Grandmother on the phone. No rabies or other diseases! The squirrel, although being too much of a slowpoke to avoid the cat, was fine healthwise. Needless to say, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief! My sister was spared a prolonged and painful rabies treatment!

A cat catching a squirrel

Other Farm Nostalgia


The first hub I wrote on my father’s recollections about a different event on the farm also involved the loss of a limb by one of the family dogs, A Pet Rescue Story: Brownie, the Three Legged Dog.

This is the fourth in a series on farm life and growing up on a farm as recalled by my Dad.

The second hub was about a near-accident my Uncle Don had, Life and Limb: A True Story From an American Farm.

My third was the Hubnugget winning The Story of a One-Room Schoolhouse.

A forth on is Farm Life During the Prohibition.

The response of readers to these stories touched me personally and readers have continued to ask for more stories! So now I regularly call Dad so he can continue relating these stories and I will continue to publish them as he does. Thanks for reading! -- Laura in Denver


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