A California family is suing Petco over the death of their 10-year-old son from a bacterial infection they say he contracted from a pet rat adopted through the retailer.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in San Diego County, seeks an undisclosed amount of damages for the death of 10-year-old Aiden Pankey, who passed away last summer. Speaking to The Associated Press, attorney John Gomez said the incident took place only a few weeks after the boy brought home his new pet rat. "He was a bright, energetic, friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married," he told reporters.
Aiden’s parents, Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, brought their son to the emergency room on the night of June 11, 2013. According to court documents, he reported a severe stomach ache and high fever. He died within 24 hours of admission.
The San Diego County medical examiner’s office later determined that the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, or rat-bite fever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection is usually contracted from bites and scratches from rodents, and must be treated with antibiotics. The agency is currently reviewing lab samples from Aiden’s rat to confirm it carried the disease at the time of the incident.
Petco, whose care sheet states that pregnant women and young children “should consider not having a rat as a pet,” told reporters that the company is in the process of investigating the charges of the lawsuit. That said, it is devastated by the family’s tragic loss, officials said in a statement. "We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," they wrote. "The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."
The incident recalls the equally tragic case of 5-year-old Noah and 7-year-old Connor Barthe, who were both strangled to death by an escaped African rock python last summer. The snake, which was kept in a pet store located below the apartment where the two boys were sleeping, reportedly made its way through the buildings ventilation system. At 100 lbs., it literally fell through the ceiling, into the home.
Gomez hopes that the lawsuit will prevent similar incidents by establishing more effective protocols for evaluating infections among store animals. "Apparently there was some breakdown in procedures,” he said. “They want tighter controls."