Gardnerville Rabies Case Presents Frightening, Heartbreaking Choices

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GARDNERVILLE, NV - He hardly looks menacing in his photo. In fact, he's quite cute, but public health officials say a boxer-mix pup may present a significant, in fact, a potentially deadly, health risk.

He and his litter mates were born about 12 weeks ago and sold through a Facebook ad. One of them later died of parvo, but also tested positive here at the state lab for a rabies strain found in a species of bats.

Since then, Douglas County Animal Services has been trying to locate their new owners.

Rabies in humans is almost always fatal, but shots given soon enough after exposure are effective in ;preventing the disease. So, there's an urgency to the search.

One pup and one new owner is still out there.

It's believed it has changed hands three times since leaving its litter and was last given to a woman at a 7-11 store on Tillman Lane.

When that person is found, she will face the same tough choice others have: to quarantine their dogs for 180 days or have them euthanized.

Even with the medical risks and legal penalties it's at once both frightening and heartbreaking.

"Shadow" was a welcome addition to Holli Avila's life when her sister Rachel Lomeli gave her one of two pups she bought. Having to give him up to be euthanized was more than difficult.

"It was very hard, one of the hardest decisions I ever made,." she says, adding that she considered trying to hide the dog.

Her sister is torn. Relieved at the phone call she got saying her dog had tested negative, but still angry.

"If feel, my family's safe, my dog died for no reason."

She has company.

The dogs' original owner, Brittany McLaughlin-Smith, says there's no way the pups were exposed to a rabid bat at her home. She says the pups were kept in their own room, never allowed outside and no bat ever found its way into the house.

"I've never even seen a bat in my life," she says.

She believes that exposure happened after the one pup was adopted. and taken to a Carson City home. She says the rest were healthy and are being needlessly euthanized.

She's also said no to the post-exposure prophylaxis,

By declining to get the preventative shots she's literally betting her life on that being true.

"I'm not going to get a shot when I know there's nothing wrong with me." she says, adding that she knows the consequences of being wrong.

The law is unforgiving but public health officials will tell you it's also the reason rabies cases are so rare.

Canine rabies was eliminated in the U.S. in the 1970's. Strains found in other species like foxes and skunks persists. Here in Nevada it's only found in bats.

Dogs can contract those strains, but it's rare. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has taken particular interest in the Nevada case because it is so rare.

Nevertheless, some of the owners of these pups say changes should be made. They've launched an effort on Facebook--Mowgli's Movement--named for one of the euthanized pups to press for changes.

Meanwhile officials have little choice but to enforce the law and search for the missing pup and its owner.

Anyone with information is urged to call Douglas County Animal Services at (775) 782-9061 or Carson City Health and Human Services at (775) 887-2190.