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A cat, a cop and catastrophe

Osakis Police Chief Chad Gulbranson (above) sits at his desk, back at work after recovering three months from a cat bite. (Roberta Olson/Echo Press)1 / 3
A five inch scar was the result of a second surgery on Chief Chad Gulbranson’s arm following a cat bite.2 / 3
Tango the cat seems innocent enough with his doll.3 / 3

The Osakis police chief tangled with Tango, and lost.

In the following weeks, however, Chief Chad Gulbranson learned more than he ever wanted to know about cat bites.

He sips his black coffee and shares that knowledge in hopes of saving others the pain and agony he went through.

Gulbranson, his wife, Sherry, and twin sons Aidan and Connor, adopted Tango more than a year ago. The cat was declawed and neutered.

They named him Tango, and he was a house cat, getting along just fine in the family.

“Late last fall this other cat just showed up at the neighbors, a female. We thought it was pregnant, so we decided to take it in and let it stay in the garage,” Gulbranson said.

The new female cat, now named CC, and Tango didn’t get along, so CC was kept in the garage.

Fur flew when the two cats encountered each other, and Gulbranson decided to try to help them settle their differences. After all, it was getting cold in the garage for CC.

Gulbranson had been sitting at home watching Friday night football the week before Thanksgiving. He had been holding Tango on his lap. Tango went upstairs.

“I decided it was a good idea to bring in the female and let it sit in my lap while I was watching football,” he said.

Tango came down the stairs unexpectedly. “Both puffed up and got mad,” he recalls. “I told my boys to catch CC and put her back in the garage. I’ll hold Tango.”

Gulbranson got one little pet on the cat. “He bit me on the wrist. I had two nice punctures on my wrist. I thought nothing of it. Well, it bled pretty good, so I should be OK.”

On Saturday morning, Gulbranson’s wrist was starting to get stiff and sore. he wrapped his hand and wrist in an Ace bandage. “It hurt to move my hand,” he said.

That Saturday night, Sherry visited with some of her friends who work in a medical clinic. They said that Gulbranson needed to go into the emergency room immediately. “By Sunday it was getting pretty swollen,” Gulbranson said. “But, I’m a typical man. I didn’t go in.”

That Sunday night, the couple typed in “cat bite” on the Internet. “The stuff we saw on there, we decided Monday morning we’re going to the doctor.”

Their first stop was the Osakis Medical Clinic. “They took one look at it and said to go to the orthopedic clinic at the Alexandria hospital right now.”

Treatment started with two 1,000 milligram antibiotic pills a day. By Wednesday, there was no change. His hand was more swollen. The dosage was doubled. “It was the most they would give you in pills for antibiotics,” he recalls.

Thanksgiving came and went, and on Friday the swelling seemed to be going down, but he couldn’t move his hand.

By Monday, when Gulbranson went back to the orthopedist, who ordered an MRI, the infection had reached the tendons on top of his wrist, and he was scheduled for surgery the next day.

His wrist and arm felt better for a couple days but then his middle finger just closed. “They are pretty sure my tendon snapped. I couldn’t open my middle finger.”

That resulted in a trip to St. Cloud Orthopedics to a hand surgeon. Antibiotics were continued and the chief now had to wear a brace to immobilize his fingers.

Christmas passed, and surgery was again scheduled in early January to repair the tendon. The procedure added a 4 to 5 inch incision and 26 stitches, which crisscrossed the original 2 to 3 inch scar “like a railroad,” he says.

Following surgery, Gulbranson’s hand and arm were immobilized in a cast for a month. At first, he could not use any of his fingers, but after two weeks he was allowed to use his index finger. As he is right-handed, he found ways to compensate and work around the bulky cast, even to the extent of cleaning fish.

Two weeks after Chad was bitten, he and Sherry decided to put an end to the cat fights.

The couple employed the water squirt gun technique. When the cats fought, they were squirted with water. Cats hate water, and they quickly realized that if they fought they would get sprayed. It deterred their aggressive behavior. The fights are over.

What did Gulbranson learn from his experience?

“I found out there’s two groups of people – one that when you tell them the story they say, ‘Oh, yeah, cat bites are the worst thing.’ And the ones that say, ‘Really, cat bite? I didn’t think they were that bad.’ ”

He also learned, “You don’t break up cats that are fighting with your hands. You don’t touch them. And if you get bit, you clean it out if you’ve got peroxide or iodine, and then you go to the doctor immediately.”

Although Chad was out of commission and mostly off work for three months, he still feels lucky.

“The infection didn’t get into the wrist joint or bones. It shouldn’t have gone unchecked with no antibiotics for two and a half days.”

He also discovered he was luckier than a distant cousin who got bit by a cat about 40 years ago and died from the infection.

Gulbranson has worked full time in the Osakis Police Department since October 2001, and has been police chief for two years this month. He completed his law enforcement degree at Alexandria Technical College in 1998. He completed his bachelor of science in criminal justice.