Newport family concerned about cows in Tiverton

A local family is looking for help after coming into contact with a Tiverton calf, which may have died from rabies.

They say the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is standing in the way of obtaining the treatment their six young children may need to stay healthy.

While sitting in her Newport home, concerned mom Michelle Roberts told NBC10 she and her husband have a lot to worry about over the next few days.

Parents Michelle and George say they won't rest until they get the state issued rabies treatment for each of their six kids.

That's because the children played with, ate with, and kissed the exact same black and white calf that has caused a regional public health alert for potential rabies exposure.

Having six children all under the age of 10, the pair says their 'protective mode' kicked into high gear as soon as they heard the news of the that a 3 month old calf that lived right next door to the popular Gray's Ice Cream Shop in Tiverton, had bitten someone on July 15th and then died on July 21st.

The Roberts are worried because the entire clan got up close and personal with the same calf on the 4th of July, one day before what the RIDOH has determined as the potential risk period.

According to Michelle, "the kids were over there playing with the cows, and the cow had licked my daughters ice cream, and then my daughter had eaten some of the ice cream, and also the cow had licked my sons face, and had also licked my daughters face, so they had direct contact with saliva, there's no question about that."

Michelle even showed NBC10 about a dozen photos of the children playing right next to the snout of the calf, to prove they are not exaggerating about the level of contact they had with the farm animal.

The Roberts say they were shocked and disturbed when the RIDOH said 'no' when they inquired about getting the kids treated for rabies, just in case, since it's still unclear what the calf died from.

"Who knows what the exact dates (of death) are here, I mean we're talking about the 21st he died supposedly, but no one knew (at the RIDOH) until the 24th!" an obviously frustrated Michelle said.

"There's so much confusion here, why don't we err on the side of caution? I mean these are children's lives we're talking about! There's nothing at stake here except their lives, and I don't understand why they wouldn't give it (the rabies shots) to them," Michelle begged.


The parents' fears only worsened when they learned that a second calf had recently died at the same farm.

George said, "I'm pretty confused as to why they won't just offer us the vaccine within the timeframe. Because they say, 'Oh, the cut off was the 5th,' apparently. And I don't understand why they determined the 5th, but I mean, my family was out there on the 4th, and had a lot of interaction with the calf. I mean as far as the calf licking on one of my child's ice cream and my child eating the ice cream, that's as real as it gets as far as why won't this Health Department of Rhode Island just say 'hey, give them the vaccine, we're not going to take the chance with this family and their kids,' My kids are priceless to me. I don't understand how they can just say, 'Oh we'll see what happens."

Michelle said, "I want my kids to be able to get the shots that they should be able to get. I don't want to wait to see if somebody has rabies, and then it's too late, I don't want to wait until that happens. I don't want to wait. These are my children's lives."

On Friday NBC10 called the RIDOH to inquire about the Roberts' family dilemma, and just after 10 p.m. Dana Chadwick a spokeswoman for the RIDOH released the following statement:

"The advisory issued by the Rhode Island Department of Health to those who had physical contact with the black-and-white calf in Tiverton between July 5 and July 21 is based on the guidance of international experts on rabies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health has been in contact with CDC throughout the course of this situation and remains confident in the guidance it has issued.

A Rhode Island Department of Health physician contacted the Roberts family by telephone this evening to discuss the family's risk of exposure based on the timing of their visit and to answer any questions that the family might have."

Individuals who had physical contact with the black-and-white calf prior to July 5 are not at risk for rabies from that contact."

NBC10 spoke with Michelle Roberts just after the statement was issued; she confirmed that Dr. James McDonald of the RIDOH had contacted her to discuss their concerns, but she said as of Friday night the state was still not willing to release the rabies treatment.

The concerned parents, who are still trying to obtain the treatment for each of their six children, wanted NBC10 to make the public aware that even though their own family physician recommended that the children receive the round of anti-rabies treatment, the decision is ultimately up to the RIDOH which is the only agency that can release the doses.

The results of the second dead calf's necropsy (animal autopsy) are expected to be released on Saturday.