A Burns Park couple wakes to a whooshing sound.
He turns on the light. She screams. A bat is flying about their bedroom.
It is winter, but local bats appear whenever the weather warms. One day last spring, the Whittaker Road Animal Clinic in Ypsilanti, which does all testing for the county, processed fifteen–and three came in one day this January. Veterinary technician Kristin White says most cases she handles come from Ann Arbor, mainly from older homes or homes undergoing remodeling.
Judy Gwozdek, communicable disease coordinator at the Washtenaw County health department, says Ann Arborites have encountered them everywhere: a woman took a sled down from the attic, not expecting a bat to be hibernating on it; once downstairs, the bat took flight. A man reached to turn on the shower and touched a bat hanging inside. A woman went out to her compost can and thought she saw an old banana peel on top of it. …
Gwozdek warns not to dispose of a bat or let it escape if there may have been physical contact–people who are sleeping may be bitten or lightly scratched without knowing it. Bats can carry rabies, which is always fatal if untreated–and the only way to avoid a painful series of post-exposure inoculations is to have the bat tested. In 2011, 107 bats were brought to the Whittaker Road clinic for testing, and four were positive for rabies; two were positive last year. All animals, even indoor cats who might one day encounter a visitor, need preventative inoculations; unfortunately, vaccines for humans are limited and very expensive.
White has been inoculated, however, so she can handle bats and other wild animals safely. “If someone brings in a deceased bat, we just ship it on ice to Michigan State for testing,” she explains. “When they come in alive, it’s a little more of a challenge.”
The county urges people who encounter a bat to capture it in a small container (like a coffee can) by placing the container over the bat, slipping a piece of cardboard beneath, and attaching these to each other with duct tape. White greatly prefers small containers that she can put, bat and all, into a glass induction chamber; this can be hooked up to an anesthetic machine, allowing her to prepare the animal to be euthanized. When bats arrive in larger boxes, they can escape–which is why the clinic asks people to leave them in the car for a technician to retrieve.
“We did have one gentleman bring a box into our lobby. He opened it up, and a bat flew out,” says White. “He didn’t think it was alive. When people tell me the bat is deceased, I no longer believe that and take caution.”