Woman: 'I Think I Must Have Won'
ROANOKE, Va. -- Bleeding from three bites and wearing only the housecoat she had on to retrieve her newspaper, an elderly woman upended an attacking, rabies-crazed cat in the street in front of her home and, with her hand tight around its tail, beat the feline into submission against a nearby utility pole.
Isabelle Blankenship said turning the black and white stray cat into a club and "beating the devil out of it" was what saved her from further injury Friday morning in a bizarre assault in front of stunned neighbors.
Authorities said Monday that an examination of the deceased animal revealed the presence of rabies.
"The cat came from nowhere and jumped on me," said Blankenship, 85. "We fought for a while. I think I must have won."
The snarling animal went first for her legs, delivering two painful bites. As Blankenship sought to defend herself with her hands, the cat gnawed into one of them.
"I was bleeding a whole lot," she said.
Thirty cases of rabid animals have been confirmed in the state this year, slightly below average, the Virginia Department of Health said.
While confrontations this dramatic between rabid critters and humans are relatively rare, bites involving rabies aren't.
The state averages 537 confirmed cases a year of the virus, which can be transmitted through the bite, saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal and that undermines the nervous system, often with deadly consequences unless promptly treated. Blankenship received prompt rabies care.
Blankenship's morning began quietly as usual.
As she has done for years, Blankenship crossed Morwanda Street in front of her ranchstyle brick home at about 8 a.m. to retrieve her Roanoke Times from the delivery tube beside her mailbox.
Ashley Altice, 17, who lives a few doors up the street, was watching for her ride to William Fleming High School when she noticed a commotion, recognized that an elderly woman was in trouble and sprinted out her front door, arriving first on the scene.
"Mom, call 911," she yelled.
Her sister, Tina, looked out to see Blankenship clubbing the utility pole with the cat.
"I took every ounce of energy in me and threw it at the cat," Blankenship said. "You don't know what you'll do until the time comes."
By the time Ashley arrived, Blankenship had dropped the animal and was retreating toward her home leaving blood drops on the pavement. Ashley put a foot on the dazed cat's head to keep it in place, while Tina followed after Blankenship and went inside.
"Blood all over the floor. She was trying to clean herself up. It was hopeless," Tina said. "In her house it looked like a murder."
An ambulance took Blankenship for hospital care. She was stitched up, received a rabies shot and a prescription before returning home, where on Monday she described her condition as OK. An animal control officer whisked away the cat, which was later put to death and checked for rabies. It tested positive.
"First rabid cat in Virginia this year," said Dick Tabb, environmental health manager for the Virginia Department of Health in the Roanoke Valley.
Monday, authorities notified people living in the neighborhood using a recorded phone message and a paper flyer.
"I'm worried. I got a dog," said resident Dustin Kelly, who added that he planned to take his dog for a rabies test just in case.
Saturday, a floral delivery service dropped off flowers of thanks at the Altice residence from Blankenship's family. Ashley and Tina's mother, Tonja, said she and her daughters had never met Blankenship before but were more than glad to help her.
"That's what neighbors are for," she said.