NC couple spends $20,000, but still on losing end of fight to free their dog

NC couple spends $20,000, but still on losing end of fight to free their dog

CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Parole for Luna? Denied.

A Mecklenburg County judge ruled this week that the puppy of Tim and Angela Munson must serve out her full six months of rabies quarantine due to possible exposure with a bat.

In her order, Administrative Law Judge Selina Malherbe said the county Health Department acted reasonably when it decided that a bat found in the Munsons' home in June had to be considered rabid even though the winged invader had not been tested to confirm the disease.

The bat was found downstairs in the Munsons' kitchen. Luna was locked in her crate in the Munsons' upstairs bedroom behind a closed door. Angela wrapped the flying mammal in a dish towel and released it outside. Health officials, however, said there was no way to know how long the bat had been in the home and whether it had made contact with the couple or their five dogs and one cat.

At the time, Luna was too young for a rabies vaccination. Thus, a health official told the Munsons they either had to have their 8-week-old puppy destroyed or pay to keep her quarantined by a veterinarian. She's scheduled to be released shortly before Christmas.

At first, the vet's office allowed the Munsons to visit and play with their pet. But the health department ended the playtime on July 31 – even though the Munsons had received rabies-preventative shots following the discovery of the bat.

The couple took the health department to court last month. They argued that there was almost no chance Luna had interacted with the bat, and that the puppy had shown no signs of rabies during her confinement, which is approaching its midway point. They told the judge that Luna should have been released after a 10-day waiting period to see if she was rabid.

The judge declined – with an important caveat.

Given the deadliness of rabies, Malherbe said the Health Department had followed best practices when it ordered the quarantine. According to state health statistics, Mecklenburg County had 19 confirmed rabies cases in animals last year. Two of them involved bats.

But Malherbe also said it that it would be a reasonable condition of Luna's incarceration to resume the Munsons' visits with the puppy at the vet clinic.

If the judge intended to throw the couple a bone, it's unclear if the Munsons think it's big enough. They say they have spent close to $20,000 on boarding, legal fees, home repairs to ward off future bat invasions, as well as the battery of rabies shots they both took following the discovery of the bat.

Under state law the Munsons can appeal Malherbe's decision to Superior Court. Their attorney, Corey Parton of Charlotte, said Thursday that the couple is "carefully weighing their legal options."

"Our clients are disappointed with the judge's final decision," Parton said, "but glad that they are now able to at least visit and spend time with Luna."