Sun, 06 Jul 2003

The human touch to helping abandoned animals

The sight of the stray cat was enough to stop anyone in their tracks. Its facial features were pulled taut by thick crusts all over its head.

Upon closer inspection, it was apparent that the crusts also covered all of its paws, enlarging them to four times their normal size.

A local veterinarian looked at the cat and said it was scabies, an extremely itchy, parasitic mite that burrows into the skin of animals -- and humans -- to lay its eggs, which hatch and feed on the host.

The skin of the cat's body was riddled with the parasite, and the vet gently advised to have it put to sleep, and to wash immediately with a good antiseptic cleanser.

Being a good animal Samaritan takes more than just a caring heart; it requires a cautious approach when handling the stray, both for the sake of the animal and for one's personal health.

There are plenty of forlorn-looking animals out on the city's streets, and Dr. Gunadi Setiarma, a local veterinarian, said nature's law, that only the strong will survive, applied also to stray dogs and cats; the weak die, too.

But that does not necessarily mean a stray dog or cat which has survived a tough life on the streets is healthy, he added, and all strays need to be taken to a vet for that very reason.

"We need to know its state of health or if it shows symptoms of rabies or something else. Similarly, some animals do not display symptoms but are merely carriers; if we don't bring the animal in, we won't know if it has a zoonotic disease, meaning it is transferable to humans."

In addition to the scabies mite, fungus is also contagious and transmittable to humans, he said.

"Stray animals should be transported to the vet's inside a portable kennel. However, if that is not available, use a box that has holes cut in it to make sure the animal can breathe.

"Keep the stray securely inside the box so it doesn't get loose and contaminate your car, or worse, interfere with your driving," he said.

If the cat or dog is diagnosed with scabies, everything has to be washed, not only your hands, with a good antiseptic cleanser. Wash any clothing that has come into contact with the animal -- detergent is enough -- and also the portable kennel, right down to the screws, if you can disassemble it.

The most dangerous risk, however, is rabies, and if an animal is dribbling, disoriented, sensitive to light and sound, showing signs of neurosis or has its tail down between its legs, then do not approach it, Dr. Gunadi said.

"An animal with rabies has had a hard life and is suspicious of people -- they are worried we will hurt them, so they will growl and may snap if we touch them."

Other hazards include leptospirosis, hepatitis and intestinal worms, and Dr. Gunadi said that even a scratch could put you at risk of contracting the disease or worm.

He advised applying rubbing alcohol to any scratches.

If the worst happens and you are bitten, clean the wound first -- do not cover it -- and see a doctor.

The animal's fate will ultimately depend on the results of the vet's examination.

"There are two choices for the stray: One, the animal can stay at the vet's facilities, or two, if the person doesn't have a pet and is sure they can handle it, they can take it home depending on its health."

Not all veterinarians have facilities for keeping animals on their premises, but they can recommend alternative care for the stray, or perhaps look after the animal for a short time.

-- Maria Kegel