2017-04-13 / Nature

Time to Protect Pets Against Rabies

By Charles Avenengo

With the arrival of spring and (in theory) warmer weather, wild mammals have emerged from hibernation. Warm weather means people are more regularly in contact with the animals, so Newport Animal Control Officer Julie Sweeney said that now is the time to be wary of rabies.

“Rabies is definitely here and it’s an issue,” she said.

Under Rhode Island state law, pets must be vaccinated for rabies or pet owners face a penalty of a $200 fine and a six-month quarantine for their pet. “It’s the first line of defense,” Sweeney said. “If the owner cannot pay the quarantine, then the pet is euthanized. That is heartbreaking, but it’s why vaccines are so important. The whole situation could be avoided with a $10 vaccination.”

Newport is teaming up with the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association to offer a low-cost rabies clinic on Sunday, April 22. Owners of unvaccinated dogs, cats and weasels can bring their pets to the Public Works Garage on Halsey Street between noon and 1 p.m. The cost for the vaccine is $10.

“One shot can change it all,” Sweeney said.

Rabies is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected animal. According to the World Health Organization, about 55,000 humans die annually from the virus, mainly in developing countries. In the United States, only a handful of cases are reported annually.

Some locations, like Hawaii, are free of rabies. This is largely because mainlanders who bring their pets to the Aloha State must provide proof that the pet has had two rabies shots, plus a micro-chip must be inserted into the animal, followed by a five-day quarantine. Otherwise, the pet must be quarantined for 120 days.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, the last case of human rabies in the state was in 1940. In Newport County, animal bites rose steadily from 63 in 2010 to 121 in 2014. Still, Newport County received the least amounts of bites of Rhode Island’s five counties.

Dogs are most responsible for bites in Rhode Island, with just more than half of the bites reported, followed by bats and cats. Together, these three groups accounted for more than 90 percent of the bites in the state.

The report indicated that females are more likely than males to be bitten. Broken down by age, children under 10 received the most bites. Not surprisingly, July and August accounted for the most bites, followed by June and May.

[The virus] definitely waxes and wanes,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney remembers when the disease reappeared in the state and “crossed over the border in 1994.” Since then, she has seen many animals affected on the island. But things have changed, she said. At that time, an animal suspected of being infected with the virus was euthanized. Former Portsmouth Animal Control Officer Betsy Hansen reported that 150 animals were euthanized in 1995. Today, with improved preventative measures, such drastic steps are not always required. Rabies has been steadily declining due to animal control and vaccination programs, modern rabies biologics following exposure, and successful outreach campaigns.

Rabies Clinic

WHEN: April 22, 12-1 p.m.
WHERE: Public Works garage,
Halsey Street
COST: $10 (cash only)
You do not need to be a Newport resident. To be eligible for
a three-year vaccination, owners
must bring proof of prior vaccination.

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