“A rabies alert was posted Tuesday by the Westchester County Department of Health,” reported the Tarrytown Daily Voice earlier this week, “after a police officer shot a stray cat who attacked him after trying to attack a man and woman in Elmsford.”
“When Elmsford Police Department responded, the cat chased the officer into a neighbor’s yard and attacked him. The cat bit the officer’s leg as he tried to fend off the animal, police said. The officer shook the cat from his leg, but the animal pounced at the officer again, puncturing his skin with its teeth and claws.
‘An officer got a few nasty bites and is being treated for rabies,’ [Elmsford Mayor Robert] Williams said Sunday night, before testing confirmed the cat had rabies. ‘You have to start the treatment right away while they are awaiting the results from the cat. He was released from the hospital later that day [Friday] and went home to rest. He returned to work the next day.’” 
No doubt TNR opponents will have a field day with this one. But how about a little perspective?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 human rabies cases have been reported in the U.S. since 1995. Of those, 10 were the result of dog bites that occurred outside of the country; the remainder were traced either to wildlife or were of unknown origins.  Only two cases of rabies have been attributed to cats since 1960.  Granted, both were fatal.
In the earliest of the two cases, the 19-year-old woman involved was “bitten by a cat in Guatemala” and later “admitted to University Hospitals of Cleveland for observation.”  The second case involved a “60-year old white male, a farmer, a nurseryman and part-time trapper… bitten on the left ring finger by a stray cat on November 8, 1974.” 
So, how likely is it you’ll contract rabies from a cat?
Actually, you’ve got a much better chance of being killed by lightning—not just struck, but killed by lightning. Data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicate that between 1959 and 2011, 3,947 people in the U.S.* were killed by lightning. 
That’s roughly 75 deaths annually, on average. Due to lightning strikes.
I think I’ll take my chances doing TNR.
Included with the Tarrytown Daily Voice article was a photo of a frightened looking gray cat—back raised, ears flat, and hissing. Was it the “charcoal gray, short-haired cat with yellowish-green eyes and a dirty coat” at the heart of the story? Not at all.
The photo is credited to “Flickr user poenaru,” and a little bit of sleuthing reveals the motive for the cat’s menacing appearance: he or she had just taken notice of photographer Hannibal Poenaru’s dog. (I didn’t include the photo with this post because I didn’t hear back from Poenaru in time; I wonder if the folks at the Tarrytown Daily Voice had permission to run the photo.)
* Including two deaths in Guam, one in American Samoa, and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
1. Shamburger, M. and Baage-Lord, N. (2012) Elmsford Police Shoot Rabid Cat After Attack. http://tarrytown.dailyvoice.com/police-fire/elmsford-police-shoot-rabid-cat-after-attack#comments
2. CDC, Human Rabies. 2012, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Atlanta (GA). http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/human_rabies.html
3. CDC, “Recovery of a Patient from Clinical Rabies—California, 2011.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2012. 61(4): p. 61–64. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6104a1.htm
4. Ross, E. and Armentrout, S.A., “Myocarditis Associated with Rabies—Report of a Case.” New England Journal of Medicine. 1962. 266(21): p. 1087–1089. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM196205242662105
5. Sung, J.H., et al., “A Case of Human Rabies and Ultrastructure of the Negri Body.” Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology. 1976. 35(5): p. 541–559.
6. Holle, R., Lightning Fatalities by State, 1959–2011. 2012, Vaisala: Tucson, AZ. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/stats/59-11_fatalities_rates.pdf