Debbie Adkins, 63, was doing her job as a merchandiser inside a chain drug store last Sunday when a customer’s pet dog bit her in the face.

The bite happened that afternoon inside CVS pharmacy at Ridgewood Farms, along Electric Road in Salem. It was bloody, Adkins said, and it left puncture wounds on her upper left cheek and lower nose.

The name of the small, all-black dog was Pepper, Adkins told me. She believes it was a Cockapoo, a hybrid of a cocker spaniel and poodle. She learned the dog’s name from its owner in the store.

But Adkins said the sudden and unexpected bite left her so flustered that she neglected to get the owner’s name or contact phone number that day.

Now Adkins is desperate for that information. It could save her the hassle and expense of rabies vaccinations. Two doctors have recommended she get a series of those.

Adkins is uninsured. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the course of five shots over two weeks “averages about $3,800, not including costs for hospital treatment or wound care.”

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After I inquired about the dog bite, Salem police on Thursday posted an image of the dog and its unidentified owner to the police department’s Facebook page.

Salem spokesman Mike Stevens said police obtained that screen capture from CVS’s security video. The Facebook post also displays a grainy image of a dark SUV or station wagon, thought to be the dog owner’s car.

If you recognize the woman in the photo, you should call Salem police Lt. G. Haston at (540) 375-3083 immediately. That call could save Adkins a lot of money she doesn’t have — or perhaps her life, if the pet has exhibited any rabies symptoms since the bite.

Adkins became disabled eight years ago, and works part time for an independent merchandising company to make ends meet. She said she has no health insurance coverage other than inpatient hospitalization through Medicare — she has that because of her disability.

She asked me not to name her employer because she fears disclosure will cost her her job.

Typically, Adkins visits different retailers to arrange in-store promotional advertising for her company’s clients. That’s what she was doing at CVS on April 3. She arrived at the Ridgewood Farms store around 10:30 a.m., she said.

The bite happened closer to 1:30 p.m., as Adkins was finishing up her work there.

Adkins told me she’s a dog lover. She’s still mourning the death of her beloved Shih Tzu, Mac, who was 13 when he died in 2019. And she frequently dog-sits for friends, she added.

So when Adkins encountered the owner and Pepper, who was unleashed and in a push cart in a pharmacy aisle, Adkins’ first instinct was to be friendly.

“I stopped, I smiled, I gave it some googly eyes,” Adkins told me. “It was wagging its tail.” When Adkins got closer, the dog jumped up and “put its paws on my chest.” (She’s 5 feet, 2 inches tall.)

She allowed Pepper to lick her face. Then with no warning, the dog took a chomp and she jumped back.

“I put my hand over my face, where the dog bit me, and I started feeling blood running,” Adkins said.

The customer told her, “Oh, I think he scratched you,” Adkins recalled. “I said, ‘No, he bit me.’”

The woman was apologetic, Adkins added. “She stood around for awhile while another customer handed me tissue after tissue for the bleeding. I just said, ‘I think I’m all right.’”

After that, the customer moved on inside the store. Adkins encountered her again a few minutes later, near the store’s front door, as the dog owner used a credit or debit card to pay for items at a self-checkout.

There, Adkins gave the woman Adkins’ name and phone number. She said she watched as the owner inputted Adkins’ information into the owner’s smartphone.

“She put ‘dog bite’ beside it,” Adkins said. Then the woman left the store.

Adkins, who lives in Roanoke’s Raleigh Court neighborhood, returned home and cleaned herself up because “my hands had blood all over them and so did my face.”

Next, she made an online appointment at an urgent-care clinic inside the CVS at Towers Shopping Center, and drove herself there.

A nurse practitioner gave her a tetanus shot, prescribed antibiotics and recommended she return in two days, Adkins said. On Monday, Adkins reported the bite to the Salem Police Department.

When Adkins returned to the urgent-care clinic on Tuesday, she said she was exhibiting signs of infection. By then, the the wound was painful, red and swollen, Adkins said. A different nurse practitioner almost immediately referred Adkins to the emergency room at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Adkins said a doctor at the Carilion ER there told her, “You have to start the rabies protocol right away.”

Adkins said she replied “I don’t think this is a sick dog.” The physician told her, “‘You don’t know that. You don’t know the owner. I don’t know why you want to take that risk,’” Adkins said.

She later visited New Horizons, her regular clinic on Melrose Avenue. A doctor there also urged her to get rabies vaccinations.

So far, Adkins said she’s racked up at least $363 in medical bills stemming from the dog bite. She’s filed a claim for those, and potential future expenses, with the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission. In addition to the possibility of rabies, she’s also concerned about potential scarring.

“You’d have to be a 63-year-old woman with insecurities to understand how much a scar on my face is going to bother me,” Adkins told me.

She said she reported the incident to CVS in phone calls on Sunday and again on Tuesday, which is when she also contacted me, by email. I reached out to CVS on Wednesday night.

Thursday morning, CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault emailed me: “We provided a copy of the security video of this incident to the police department and are in the process of contacting Ms. Adkins.”

Adkins said someone from CVS called her Thursday afternoon. She said that man told her that Salem police would need a warrant if they sought to identify the dog owner through the card transaction the customer made at CVS on April 3.

And that’s pretty much where things stand right now. Police have posted the dog owner’s photo. Adkins is still trying to find the woman, to determine if the animal has displayed any rabies symptoms since the bite.

According to the CDC, rabies deaths are uncommon in the United States. There are typically one to three human cases annually. The disease is almost always fatal. About 60,000 post-exposure rabies vaccinations are administered in America each year, usually after a human encounter with a wild animal.

The CDC’s website says if the biting animal is a pet “cat, dog, or ferret that appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10 days and observed. No anti-rabies prophylaxis is needed. No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat or ferret held in quarantine for 10 days.”

But that 10-day window expires Wednesday. If Adkins can’t identify the owner before then, she may have to begin a series of post-exposure vaccination shots.

Do you recognize the woman in the photo? If so, don’t call me. Call the Salem police, at (540) 375-3083 and let them know immediately.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:

@dancaseysblog





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