Portland man sues Petco, supplier claiming rodent from Maine store gave him rat-bite fever

Posted April 24, 2014, at 9:04 a.m.
Last modified April 24, 2014, at 4:55 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A local man has sued a national chain of pet supply stores and a Connecticut company, alleging that a rat he purchased to feed his son’s pet snake infected him with rat-bite fever.

Dominic Profenno Jr., 51, of Portland on Wednesday sued Petco Animal Supplies Inc., based in San Diego, Calif., and Fish Mart Inc. of New Haven, Conn., in U.S. District Court. Fish Mart sold the rat to the South Portland store, according to the complaint.

He is seeking compensatory damages, including payment of $170,000 in medical bills and lost wages, punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs, according to the complaint.

Profenno purchased the rat on Feb. 22, 2013, at the Petco store in South Portland as a meal for his son’s pet boa constrictor, which is not described in the complaint, as he had done on previous occasions, the complaint said. He kept the rat in a large aquarium tank and cared for it until March 13, 2013, when it was fed to the snake.

The Portland man claims the rat bit him twice on March 12, 2013, and he subsequently came down with rat-bite fever and was hospitalized for 35 days. Two to three weeks after purchasing the rat, Profenno became ill and suffered multiple spinal abscesses, painful inflammation of the joints, extreme debilitation and pain, according to the complaint.

While he was ill, Profenno was unable to work, the complaint said. The Portland man is a professional cleaner, his attorney, Thomas Douglas of Westbrook, said Thursday afternoon. Profenno was unable to drive and get to work for between six and seven months.

Petco and Fish Mart have not yet been served with the complaint, according to information posted on the court’s electronic case filing system.

“The health and safety of people and pets is always our top priority and we take Mr. Profenno’s claims seriously,” David Hallisey, director of communications at Petco, said Thursday in an email. “We understand that Mr. Profenno has filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including Petco, and therefore we cannot comment on pending litigation.

“Our animal sourcing, handling and care standards are among the highest in the industry.” he said. “All of our procedures are developed and frequently reviewed by an independent panel of animal care experts, veterinarians and specialists.

“As it relates to companion animals, including rats, we provide all new pet parents with an outline of proper care instructions, safe handling guidelines and potential health risks, along with our recommendation to seek medical attention any time they receive a bite, scratch or other questionable contact with their pet,” Hallisey said.

Efforts to contact Fish Mart Thursday were unsuccessful.

In February, a family in San Diego, Calif., sued Petco, claiming their 10-year-old son died in June of rat-bite fever contracted from a rat purchased at one of the company’s stores, according to U.S. News and World Report’s website. The lawsuit, filed in state court in California, makes some of the same claims the suit filed in Maine does, including that Petco did not properly warn buyers about possible diseases.

Thomas said Thursday that a Phoenix man who contracted rat-bite fever sued Petco in Arizona state court in 2012. That case was settled. The attorney said that a similar case against Pet Smart, a different chain, is pending in federal court in Colorado.

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