Such was the case with Daniels, the Massachusetts gentleman — his pet spaniel bit him. Curiously, Daniels’ wife, also bitten, survived. The case reminded Massachusetts that hydrophobia was still a threat; public hearings followed a few months thereafter. But it was not Daniels’ death but his wife’s survival that furnished ammunition to the vocal minority who believed that hydrophobia was not caused by contact with rabid animals, but stemmed from moral weakness of the individual, who, confronted with fear, succumbed to delusions.

These were not marginal views: In April 1877, the Boston Globe ran an editorial — “Death from Imagination” — citing moral failings as the cause of hydrophobia. In another report a few months later, the Globe announced that “the prevalent opinion among the doctors is that the [victim] did not die of hydrophobia, but of inflammation of the brain, brought on by worrying and excitement.” To some extent, such views persisted well into the 20th century. Thus, members of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) — who opposed rabies prevention measures like muzzling — were still linking hydrophobia to wild imagination as late as the mid-1910s, three decades after Louis Pasteur’s discovery of the rabies vaccine in 1885.