Family of Boy Killed by Rat-Bite Fever Sues Petco Over Sale of Pet Rat

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The San Diego County family of a 10-year-old boy who was killed by rat-bite fever has sued Petco, alleging the company sold them a pet rat infected with the disease.


Aidan Pankey, shown in a photo provided by his family via their lawyer, died of rat-bite fever on June 12, 2013.

Aidan Pankey died last June after contracting rat-bite fever about two weeks after his grandmother bought him a pet rat from a Petco location in San Diego, according to a lawsuit filed Monday against the pet-store chain.

The boy named the pet rat “Alex” and played with him, according to the lawsuit.

On the night of June 11, 2013, the boy woke up in pain, with a fever and stomach problems, according to the complaint.

“He appeared lethargic, pale, and could barely walk,” the lawsuit states.

Pankey was taken by paramedics to a children’s hospital. He was dead within hours.

“Everyone is still in shock,” said the family’s attorney, Hamilton Arendsen, in a news release about the lawsuit. “One day Aidan is doing everything a normal 10-year-old boy likes to do – riding his skateboard, playing video games, going swimming with his friends – and the next day he is dead from an infectious disease from a rat they had just bought at Petco.”


The Pankey family provided this photo of Aidan as well through an attorney.

The county medical examiner confirmed that Pankey died of  streptobacillus moniliformisalso known as rat-bite fever, the lawsuit states and the Los Angeles Times confirmed.

The family lived in Santee, according to a webpage for the boy’s funeral.

The lawsuit alleges that Petco failed to ensure it was selling healthy rats or failed to prevent them from becoming infected.

“The rat that killed Aidan appeared safe, but was in fact defective and dangerous and defendants failed to adequately warn of such dangers,” the lawsuit states.

Filed in San Diego Superior Court by Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, the complaint alleges strict liability, negligence and breach of warranty.

San Diego-based Petco, which has more than 1,200 stores across the U.S., did not immediately respond to KTLA’s request for comment on the lawsuit, but the company told the Times it was investigating.

Petco was “deeply saddened by the … family’s tragic loss. The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority and we take the family’s concerns very seriously,” the company said in a statement quotes by the Times.

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