Veterinary Staff Concerned Over Contents of Missing Box

The staff at a veterinary clinic in Sulphur Springs says a missing package put their lives at risk and left them with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

The box contained the head of a dog being shipped to a state lab for rabies testing.

Dr. Leah Larsen, veterinarian at Bright Star Veterinary Clinic, says when a resident recently brought in a dog showing symptoms of rabies, they didn't hesitate to treat it, considering the clinic staff often sees rabid animals.

"It happens quite often, unfortunately, in the country," Larsen said.

However, there was no way they could guess how this case would unravel.

"My technician was in the room and just basically pointing out the feet to the owner, when the dog lunged and bit her hand," Larsen said.

"All dogs have different reactions, so I really didn't think into it too much when I got bit," said veterinary technician Lori Franks.

Since they had dealt with rabid animals before, they knew what to do next.

The dog's health was so poor, Larsen and the dog's owner decided to euthanize it so it could be tested for rabies immediately.

The only way to test for rabies is through a sample of brain tissue.

That meant shipping the dog's head to the state lab in Austin.

"I would say we probably send one off about every other month, on average," Larsen said.

"I actually dropped it off that morning," said office manager Heather Brinkman, who helped remove the head and prepare it for shipping.

She, too, was possibly exposed to rabies.

They knew it would be about 24 hours until they found out whether they'd need the rabies vaccine.

"The box was like this big," Brinkman said, gesturing. "I'm pretty sure it says 'rabies head to be shipped off to Austin.' It usually does, because they know how critical it is to get to overnight."

"We overnighted it on Tuesday so we should have had a phone call by Thursday," Larsen said. "We didn't get a phone call, so we called the state on Friday, and the state said that they had not received the head."

The team was stunned and scared.

The window to get a vaccine after exposure is less than a week, according to Larsen.

"Once that window has passed, there's nothing we can do. This is a fatal disease," she said.

"This isn't just like, 'Oh, OK, I'm shipping a present, or I'm shipping some files.' No, this is people's lives!" Franks said.

With no time left, the vet techs drove two hours to a Dallas hospital for the rabies vaccines.

The cost for all the vaccinations, which are given over the course of a month, combined with lost wages, totaled almost $80,000.

Larsen filed workers' compensation claims, but doesn't know yet whether it will cover the costs.

"Where is the dog's head, because we still have yet to get answers about where the dog's head is, where it went!" Brinkman said.

They hope no one else has been put at risk by the package that has now been missing for months.

A UPS spokesperson tells NBC 5 a tracking number was generated, but the box never entered its network.

Larsen says they sent the dog's head to a local shipping company and she has documents showing the tracking number.

We called that company to ask if UPS picked up the package, and they had no comment.

The question remains, "where is the box?"

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