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Mendocino coast yoga retreat ends with costly rabies shots


San Francisco resident Megan Lowery was seeking rest and relaxation last week when she attended a yoga retreat at a bucolic farm on Mendocino County's south coast last weekend.

What she got, she said, was a nightmarish experience with swooping bats and painful, expensive anti-rabies shots.

Lowery and at least six others of about 30 people who attended the retreat, held at Oz Farms east of Point Arena, are undergoing a series of shots in case they were exposed to rabies, a neurological disease that left untreated is nearly always fatal. Bats and skunks are the most common carriers of the disease in the United States.

Mendocino County's public health department on Thursday reported that the people affected had slept with their doors or windows ajar, allowing bats to fly in. That was not the case, Lowery said. She said she's well aware of the dangers of bats and would not have purposely slept with them flying about in the cabin she shared with another woman.

"We would not sleep with bats. Everything was closed," she said. She said representatives of Oz Farm had told them what to do if a bat flew in but not that the cabins were inhabited by bats, Lowery said.

The first close encounter with a bat occurred Thursday during her first night on the farm.

Lowery said she was meditating when her roommate turned off her light. A short time later, she heard rustling outside then felt something swoop by her head.

"We turned on all the lights and shined a light out the door to get the bat out" as instructed by the farm manager, she said. After 30 minutes, with no more bat sightings, they closed the door because there were a number of bats outside and they didn't want them inside.

The next morning, she had a small mark on the top of her middle finger, which she initially thought was a hangnail. She didn't notice until Sunday that there were tiny telltale punctures on the finger.

"I must have gotten bitten that night," she said.

Saturday morning, her roommate had a bruise on her wrist. They chalked it up to yoga but later found punctures in the bruising.

When a bat began swooping past them again on Saturday night, they abandoned the cabin. Lowery spent the night on a couch in the farm kitchen while her roommate slept in her car.

John Hooper, one of the farm co-owners, downplayed the incident, saying bats are part of the environment yet many people fear them.

"People are much less connected with nature" than they once were, he said.

Hooper also said that the cabins have screens on the windows to keep out bats. Lowery said there were no screens on her cabin windows but that it was cold and they'd kept the windows shut in any event. She suspects the bats can enter through the fireplace in the cabin or the spaces around the windows.

Not only was the experience scare her, it has been costly and painful, with some of the shots injected into her fingertip, she said. The series of inoculations will cost $3,000 that her insurance is refusing to pay. She said Oz officials initially indicated they would cover the expense but have since been difficult to contact.

She claims that Oz's management was aware that bats can get into the cabins but have failed to do anything about it.

"I do not want anyone else to go through the physical pain I have endured nor the emotional distress I have suffered through this week," Lowery said.

Public health officials said they are continuing to investigate the incident.