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Orange County

Probation for Frisky; Care Bill for Owner

Rabies: Cat who was cornered by a coyote is released to family, who may contest cost of board.

January 05, 2002|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frisky the cat, quarantined since last month after a brush with a coyote and at one point facing a death sentence, went home Friday but will be under house arrest for three months.

"Hi, sweetie!" said Twyla Henson as she left Orange County Animal Care Services in Orange with the 5-year-old cat.

Frisky, who lives with the Henson family in Fullerton, was cornered by a coyote Sept. 22 on a neighbor's porch. Though the family said the pet was not bitten, they alerted county animal-control officials to the encounter, in case the coyote was rabid.

The Hensons say they were led to believe that the period of quarantine would be 10 days; Animal Care Services insists it always intended for the quarantine to last six months, and that when one of their officers examined Frisky, he found a puncture wound on the cat's hip.

On Dec. 23, an animal-control officer spotted Frisky outdoors and reminded the Hensons about the quarantine rules. When the cat was outside again the next day, she was picked up and taken to the pound.

The Hensons then faced the choice of paying the county $1,100 to board the cat until the quarantine period ends March 22, or have Frisky euthanized.

To get the cat back, Henson had to sign a contract agreeing to keep Frisky indoors, to report any illness to Animal Care Services and allow unannounced visits by an animal probation officer of sorts.

"So, isolation and confinement," animal-service spokeswoman Kathy Francis said to Henson as she left Friday with the cat.

"Yes, I know. I've been told," Henson said.

The family paid the county $70 for Frisky's boarding and will be billed another $70, but Henson said she plans to contest the second bill.

"We tried to be responsible and do the right thing, and look what it's gotten us," she said. "I don't care if I see a herd of elephants running down the street, I am never calling those people again."

Henson, husband Jeff and their five children and stepchildren share their home on West Ash Avenue with a python, several box turtles and a water-dragon lizard, in addition to Frisky. Twyla Henson said she is convinced the county agency agreed to release the cat only because of a public outcry after news reports about the situation.

Francis of Animal Care Services said the supervised release was always an option, which the Hensons would have known if they had called her instead of the news media.

Francis said she received three e-mails and a letter protesting the feline's incarceration. She would not reveal the contents but said one person called her a "grinch."

She joked about requiring Frisky to wear an electronic bracelet, as humans do under house arrest, but said the issue is no laughing matter. If the cat should develop rabies and bite somebody, critics would lambaste the agency for being too lax, she said.

The agency takes precautions, and "We haven't had a case of human rabies for 40 or 50 years," Francis said. "That's why we take it very seriously."

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