Volume 73, Number 33 | December 17 - 23, 2003

Rabies scare caused by Tompkins Sq. homeless dog

By Lincoln Anderson

Fears of an East Village rabies outbreak were raised last week after a homeless man told acquaintances he was getting shots for the deadly virus.

Last Thursday, Kim Yarbrough, a building superintendent on St. Mark’s Pl. near Avenue A, said a local homeless man known as Gray Wolf two days earlier had shown him a form with “city information” on the top with about five of 10 of a column of boxes checked off; Yarbrough said Gray Wolf, whose real name is Samuel Serrano, told him he was getting shots at Bellevue Hospital and his dog had been euthanized.

Bob Arihood, a local photographer, heard the news and worried that many people had potentially had contact with the allegedly infected puppy, which would sit on the sidewalk or bench by Gray Wolf as he played his flute.

“These young girls that think puppies are so cute, they have to kiss ’em,” Arihood noted with concern.

Bellevue did not provide information. However, Tina Li, a Health Department spokesperson, said there was no record of animal rabies in New York City in the past several months and no positive test for dog rabies in 60 years.

According to Arihood, Gray Wolf told him the dog, a mostly dark brown pit bull mix with a splotch of white on its back, was put down at the “A.S.P.C.A. on 110th St.” However, Gray Wolf may have been confusing it with New York City Animal Care and Control, which is located on E. 110th St., as opposed to the A.S.P.C.A., on E. 92nd St.

Richard Gentles, deputy director of Animal Care and Control, said the agency had no recent reports of dogs having rabies, though often a person will be given shots as a precaution if bitten by a strange dog. If a dog shows symptoms, it is decapitated and the head sent to the Health Department for the brain to be examined.

Gentles said rabies could be communicated through a dog lick on a sore or mucous membrane, like the mouth, though he added rabies is “very, very rare” in the city.

Ruth Goldstein, an A.S.P.C.A. spokesperson, said, “We did not see any homeless gentleman with a dog for rabies.”

Lieut. Carlos Bermudez, the 9th Precinct’s Tompkins Sq. Park lieutenant, said he picked up Gray Wolf at Sixth St. and Avenue A on Nov. 26 for an outstanding warrant for drinking beer in the park and that at that time Gray Wolf was scratching himself a lot and said he thought he had scabies, a skin parasite. The dog was not with Gray Wolf at the time, Bermudez said.

On Dec. 11, Bermudez met Gray Wolf on Avenue A and Eighth St. and the homeless man at that time told him he had gotten treated for rabies and that his dog had bitten him.

“He didn’t seem too concerned about it,” Bermudez said.

Bermudez said Gray Wolf didn’t mention to him if his dog had been put down.

To be on the safe side, Bermudez said, “Anybody that played with Gray Wolf’s dog and has unusual symptoms should go to the doctor and get it checked out. I know that many people who frequent the park played with the dog.”

Arihood said Gray Wolf apparently was getting shots at Beth Israel after initially going to Bellevue. However, Arihood said when he spoke to Gray Wolf last Friday Gray Wolf told him he didn’t have to finish the series of shots.

“At one point he said, ‘I don’t have it.’…. Now he says he’s finishing the shots,” said Arihood. “I have no idea.”

In addition, Yarbrough raised concern about young train-hopping drifters, known as “crusties,” who pass through the neighborhood seasonally with dogs.

“A lot of these crusties have dogs,” Yarbrough said. “Whether those dogs have been vaccinated, I don’t know.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health Web page, “very rarely” is rabies transmitted by non-bite exposures. Although rabies is rare in the U.S., each year 18,000 people get rabies shots. Treatment should begin 24 to 48 hours after exposure. If left untreated, rabies is fatal. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Web page, symptoms, including aches, fever, irrational excitement, convulsions and hydrophobia, or inability to drink water, typically appear 30 to 50 days after exposure. Once symptoms appear, the person will die within a week of cardiac or respiratory failure.


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