POLKTON — A rabies case led to the death of four dogs last week.
A two year-old male dog was euthanized when the owners brought it to Brown Creek Animal Hospital on Feb. 25 after the veterinarian thought it showed signs of rabies. An animal control officer from the animal shelter brought the dog to the shelter to be euthanized. Its head was sent to the state lab in Raleigh for the brain to be tested, according to shelter director Maureen Lett.
The shelter received a call confirming the guess on Thursday, March 2, Lett said.
Since the dog’s owner had three other dogs that were not vaccinated and had been exposed to the rabid dog, the owner could opt to quarantine them for four months at the veterinarian’s office or to euthanize them — but when the owner couldn’t afford to quarantine the pets, the dogs all had to be put down.
“I felt horrible having to call and tell those people,” Lett said. “I gave them the option. Had they been current on their vaccinations and exposed to rabies, they could have been given boosters and observed. But they weren’t. For one dog, the last record of a rabies vaccine was back in 2014. The other two had never had one.”
Rabies shots cover dogs for three years, Lett said. The animal shelter can give rabies shots to animals adopted or sent for rescue, though they are only one-year shots, Lett said.
“It’s state law,” Lett said. “All companion animals, pets, cats or dogs that belong to someone, are supposed to have a rabies shot and wear tags.”
There’s a $50 fine for those who don’t comply. Although in this case the owners were not fined, Lett said they had enough grief with losing their dogs and having to watch their own health.
“I recommended that they follow up with a primary care provider yesterday and give them a call and explain that they’d been in contact with a rabid dog, so they can be undergoing rabies treatment,” Lett said last week.
“Then those people have to go through rabies shots,” Lett said. “They’re based on weight, so the more you weigh, the more shots you have to get. And you don’t know if insurance will cover it. It could be several thousand dollars.”
There isn’t a county-wide leash law, so Lett said that the shelter can’t force anyone to tie up their dogs, but that the rabies law has been enforced more recently. This case highlights the reason why.
“I felt terrible having to call and tell these people I’d have to kill their animals,” Lett said.
Lett said she did not know where the dog contracted the rabies. Since it was born blind, the vet wondered at first if the sick dog had gotten into something toxic, but later determined that it was likely rabies.
This was the first confirmed rabies case Lett has dealt with since she became the director last August.
“I hope I don’t have too many more of them,” she said.
“We’ve sent off other things,” Lett said. “We’ve had to send off bats, raccoons, skunks, cows — the dairy farms send those off, though. What we send off is anything that comes in contact with a cat or dog, like a rabid possum that came in contact with a cat or dog or raccoon or anything like that. Plus companion animals, like dogs and cats.”
Last year, one skunk tested positive for rabies, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In 2015, two raccoons had it, while in 2014, one cat, one cow and two skunks were rabid.
If a dog does have a current rabies shot and comes in contact with a potentially rabid animal, the dog will need an immediate booster shot, Lett said. She hopes pet owners will get their pets vaccinated.
“It’s a crappy situation to be put in,” Lett said. “But I mean, people need to vaccinate their pets.”
After she posted a status on Facebook about the case, there was debate online about whether owners should have to have their pets vaccinated, comparing it to children’s vaccination laws, she said. However individuals feel about it, they need to have their pets vaccinated, she said.
“It saves a lot of heartache when we have to come pick up your animal and kill it,” she said. “We don’t like being the bad guys. We don’t.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.