Rabies in Eastern Kentucky
Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
When I was about 12 years old a beautiful red fox lingered near our house. I stood on the porch and watched for many minutes before calling my father. He quietly asked me to go get his gun. I knew something was seriously wrong when he said that. My father, you see, was a veterinarian and while an avid hunter for food, loved all creatures and would not harm one unless necessary.
After it was over he stated that he would send the head off to Frankfort. No other explanation was needed. I was well versed by that time about Rabies. The only way to test for Rabies was to send the complete head to the laboratory. I had seen it many times and knew the routine. And of course he was correct the animal was sick and was in early stage Rabies. I now know the many signs to look for in animals.
I was only about 3 years old when I saw my first rabid dog. The dog was in full blown distress with jaws locked pressed against the cage in our clinic. I was well protected and not allowed to cross the room, as my father gently gave me the first of many lessons in life about God’s creatures. I also remember my father going through a series of shots not once but several times so that he would not get “lock jaw” after being bitten by an animal he was trying to save.
Even before the state of Kentucky and Board of Health passed a bill in 1952 proposing all dogs be vaccinated my father was campaigning to inoculate all animals. In time the state organized clinics so that the shots were affordable for everyone with an animal. By the time I was a teenager I helped set up clinics from the back of the Martin Veterinary Clinic white pick up truck. We had a table, folding chairs, state forms, tags, pliers to attach said tags, and ink pens. We were in business. Many were set up in parking lots, or country fields. No matter where they were held people came with truck loads of animals to get their shots. If they did not have the required fee my father would reach in his pocket and slip me the money and say “fill out the form.” Many times I would hear “Doc, I am a little short, but I’ll pay you later.” Eastern Kentucky folk are good for their word, and they did. My father gave so many shots in a day that in his book Never a Ho Hum Day he says “By the days’ end, my fingers were sore from pushing the plunger of the syringe.”
By the late 1960’s Rabies was not the horrid experience and most people in the hills of Kentucky knew that they could protect their herds and animals with a simple vaccination. Those mass immunization programs helped decrease the instance of Rabies in Eastern Kentucky.
While I knew the effect on animals and the torture of those shots my father took, the full impact of what the disease did to humans had not emerged in my girlish head. As an adult the reality makes me cringe. I have researched death certificates in Eastern Kentucky and from time to time I will find one with the cause listed as “Rabies,” “bitten by rabid animal” or simply “lock jaw.” Every time I read one I see visions of that dog at the clinic. The vicious animal with no control, snarling, foaming at the mouth, eyes maddened and jaw uncontrolled beginning to freeze in place. This is a horrible, horrific way to die.
In Klaiber Cemetery, in a peaceful quiet corner, overlooking the most beautiful piece of God’s country I have ever seen are the graves of two brothers. Charles and Arthur Eugene Jones. They are the sons of John and Goldie Ellen Walker Jones. Their sister Lottie Marie Jones Lucas is one of the quietest and nicest ladies I have had the privilege to meet. She and her husband Norman have been faithful visitors to Klaiber Cemetery and their loved ones for many years. I remember the day Lottie stood by the brother’s grave marker and told me their story.
Charles, three years younger than Lottie, was born 16 June 1928 and died 11 January 1942. He was 14 ½ years old and attended Oakview Public School. His death certificate states that he died from “rabies due to dog bite about November 26, 1942.” Lottie said he was out hunting and a follow up notation on the death certificate confirms “dog bite while hunting rabbits.” Lottie says that the family knew he had been bitten but did not realize nor understand how serious this could be until it was too late. Her brother lingered through December into January and the doctor was not called until it was too late.
Their brother Arthur Eugene was born 14 December 1941, contracted measles and pneumonia and died in a matter of three days on 1 March 1944. Lottie’s voice was but a whisper as she finished her sad tale.
I have always thought, as every little girl, that my father was a hero. He was and I can’t help wonder how many lives did he save by getting a sore finger pushing that plunger?