A San Diego family has sued the Petco pet store chain after the family's 10-year-old son died from being exposed to a rat carrying a rare disease, KGTV-TV reported on Monday.
The victim, Aidan Pankey, contracted the disease in June 2013, two weeks after buying the male rat at a local Petco location. He died within two days. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's office sent the rat to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing after Pankey's death. The CDC then determined that Pankey's sudden death was caused by a streptobacillus moniliformis infection, commonly known as "rat bite fever."
Humans can contract the disease by being bitten, scratched or merely handling an infected rat.
"Clearly there were not sufficient safety procedures in place at Petco when they sold this rat," Hamilton Arendsen, who is representing Pankey's family in the suit, told KGTV. ABC News reported that the family is seeking punitive and compensatory damages in the suit.
"He was my family," the victim's father, Andrew Pankey, told KGTV. "I'm probably down 30 to 35 pounds since then. I don't even get hungry. I just go until I pass out."
The store that sold the rat to the victim's family told KGTV that it acquired the rat from Barney's Pets, an animal wholesaler in Chino, California. Barney's Pets did not comment when asked about its animal testing procedures.
Petco released a statement saying it wanted to speak with Pankey's family about his death, while also defending its animal safety protocols.
"We follow what we believe are the industry’s strongest standards for companion animal health and welfare, and we require our vendors to meet the same standards for animal care and well-being," Petco's statement read. "We require our live animal suppliers to meet or exceed USDA requirements for the care and treatment of animals, as well as follow strict requirements for housing, feeding, breeding, shipping and caring for sick or injured animals. We leave specific testing protocols to be determined by our vendors unless we identify a reason for concern."
KGTV reported that a breeder would have to register eight negative tests for the disease to make sure there was a 95 percent chance a colony of 100 rats did not carry a risk of infection.
Watch KGTV's report, as aired on Monday, below.