WESTBROOK — Clark the cat is on strict cage rest while veterinarians wait to see if the front leg bones shattered by a policeman’s shotgun blast will heal without surgery.

Meanwhile, the Gorham police officer who shot the cat, and the animal control officer who couldn’t catch the stray suspected of being rabid, are awaiting the results of a police department investigation into the incident.

The department is footing the medical bills for Clark, named for Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent. He is recovering in a Westbrook shelter, and he didn’t have rabies, it turns out.

A police officer shot the cat Aug. 20 after it reportedly bit or scratched a 7-year-old girl on Maple Ridge Road, Gorham police said. Police refused to release the names of the officers involved because of the investigation. Both officers continue to work for the department, Lt. Chris Sanborn said.

Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said state law requires animal control officers to capture suspected rabid animals and bring them to a veterinarian or animal shelter to be observed in isolation. But officers can shoot an animal if they believe it is an imminent threat to humans or other animals.

Animal Refuge League officials say this is the first time they have treated a cat shot by a police officer.


“This is not a typical way for a cat to be brought to us,” said Jeana Roth, community relations manager for the animal shelter. “We never want to see a situation like this again.”

Eric Sakach, a senior law enforcement specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, said he has never in his 38-year career heard of a situation in which a police officer shot a domestic cat suspected of having rabies.

“This may be the first time I’ve ever heard of a police officer responding to help an animal control officer with a cat,” Sakach said. “Animal control officers should be trained and have the equipment to properly trap a cat.”

The Gorham animal control officer was called to Maple Ridge Road around 7 p.m. Aug. 20 after a man reported his 7-year-old daughter was either bit or scratched by a stray cat that was known to hang around the neighborhood. The man told police that the cat, which walked with a limp, appeared to be rabid, Lt. Sanborn said.

The animal control officer tried unsuccessfully to trap the cat, and called for help from a supervisor after the cat tried to bite him, Sanborn said.

“After some discussion, they had some concern there was a rabid cat in the neighborhood that they were unable to capture,” he said. “They decided the best way to deal with it so no one else was harmed was to shoot the cat.”


The police officer shot the cat with a 16-gauge shotgun loaded with pellets. The cat ran into the woods and the officer believed he had missed, Sanborn said. Officers searched for it for “an extended period of time” that night and the following day, he said.

The cat was trapped four days later when he showed up in the yard of Deb Webb near where he had been shot. She had fed the cat on her back deck for the past three years.

The cat was deemed to be free of rabies after the 10-day quarantine period. The 7-year-old girl was not treated for rabies.

Sanborn said his department follows state protocol for dealing with animals that police suspect may be rabid, including trapping the animal so it can be quarantined while veterinarians determine if it is infected. Sanborn said he did not know what the protocol is for situations where the animal cannot be caught.

Webb was worried that Clark would be euthanized at the animal shelter. Her eyes filled with tears when she talked about the level of care he has been receiving there.

“I had a really hard time wrapping my brain around why this happened and how it happened,” she said. “I just feel really sad that this innocent, sweet animal was hunted down and shot in a yard where he felt safe.”


Roth, from the animal shelter, said the injured cat was taken to an emergency veterinary hospital for initial treatment and is now being monitored by an orthopedic surgeon. It’s unclear how much his medical care will cost the police department.

Roth said Clark, believed to be 5 to 8 years old, walks with a limp but is otherwise friendly. Shelter staff describe the black-and-white cat as a “love bug” and say he seems to be adjusting well to living inside.

“He was outside for four days after he was shot before he was brought to us,” Roth said. “Who knows what kind of pain he was in.”

Sanborn said it is important for residents to call police for help if there is a stray animal in their neighborhood, especially if it is acting strangely. Sanborn and Pinette said Maine residents should not feed or handle stray animals.

Cats can get rabies from contact with infected wild animals. Because state law requires pet owners to vaccinate cats and dogs, the risk of infection is higher for stray cats that are not vaccinated.

However, cases of cats testing positive for the deadly disease have been relatively rare in Maine. There have been eight confirmed cases of rabies in cats in Maine since January 2010, a fraction of the 297 confirmed cases of rabies during that period, according to state records. Raccoons and skunks accounted for most of the cases.

Rabies peaked in Maine in 2012 with 87 confirmed cases, including four cats. Since January 2013, there have been 76 confirmed rabies cases, including one cat.

The last confirmed case of a human infected with rabies in Maine was in 1937.

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