The clock is ticking for little Lamia, a three-week-old female bobcat.
Georgia Lafita, who is certified to do wildlife rehabilitation, said animal control officers plan to be at her home on Wednesday to get the kitten. The animal is to be euthanized and her head will be sent to Jefferson City to be tested for rabies.
When the News-Leader knocked on her door Tuesday, Lafita was in the bathroom. She wanted to reapply makeup because she said she had been crying all day.
"I'm crushed," Lafita said. "That cat is perfectly healthy. Her eyes are clear. She has lots of energy, shows no signs of illness at all."
Kathryn Wall, spokesperson for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said quarantining the animal — as would be done if it were a domestic animal — is not an option.
"We take the risk of rabies incredibly seriously, as it is 100 percent fatal for a person who contracts it. Once a person starts showing symptoms, there are no treatment options," Wall said in an email. "Under state law, wildlife do not fit into the parameters available for quarantine. We have been working closely with the state Department of Conservation and the state Department of Health and are working together to seize the animal.
"We understand that testing for rabies can seem harsh," Wall added, "but the risk is far too great to take any chances."
Lafita said she first got the call last Thursday regarding the baby bobcat.
A property owner was bulldozing his land and discovered the kitten, Lafita recalled. The man brought the kitten into his house to show his wife and call the Missouri Conservation Department, who told him to call Lafita.
Lafita said she could care for the animal until it was weaned. Then, the bobcat would be sent to another animal rescue facility and paired with another bobcat who would teach it to hunt. Eventually, the animal would be released into the wild, Lafita said.
The man put the kitten into a crate and brought it to Lafita's home in southwest Springfield.
"Before I knew what was happening, he stuck his hand in the crate," Lafita said. "He frightened her and she is a wild animal. She bit him. She only has four teeth but it caused a puncture wound."
Lafita said she suggested to the man that he consult his doctor about the bite.
Lafita put the kitten in a cage, quarantined from the other animals in Lafita's care. She bottle feeds the kitten and doesn't allow anyone else to hold little Lamia.
"I don't want her to imprint on a human, to be friendly with humans," she said. "It is a death sentence to try to make a pet out of a wild animal."
If a domestic cat or dog bites someone, the animal can be quarantined for 10 days to keep it under observation. If sick, the animal will show the first recognizable signs of the disease within a few days. The 10-day period allows enough time for the bitten person to receive preventive treatment should the dog appear to be rabid.
"If they come and get her and euthanize her and cut her head off, we won't have the results before the quarantine would be up," a frustrated Lafita said. "If she had active rabies, she would be sick by now. She would be showing signs of illness."
Shannon Ohrenberg is the conservation agent who often works with Lafita on rescued animals. Ohrenberg said she reached out to the health department on Lafita's behalf, asking if the kitten could be quarantined instead.
Ohrenberg said she now understands why that is not possible.
"The reason they don't allow that for wildlife is because the scientific research and testing isn't there," Ohrenberg said. "They have done a ton of testing on domestic animals. They haven't tested every wild animal.
"The Conservation Department, when it comes to human safety, we are going to follow what the health department tells us to do," Ohrenberg said. "If they say that is what we need to do to make sure the individual is safe, that is what we are going to do. Even if it is not super fun."