Precautions taken in rabies caseMore than 20 dogs likely will be euthanized this week, and about 15 people have been referred to their physician after a rabid dog was brought to Grand Forks’ Circle of Friends Humane Society, officials said Monday. State Veterinarian Susan Keller said the North Dakota Board of Animal Health assessed the dogs that were at the facility from March 15 to 20, the timeframe of possible contact with the rabies carrier.
By: By Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co, , The Jamestown Sun
More than 20 dogs likely will be euthanized this week, and about 15 people have been referred to their physician after a rabid dog was brought to Grand Forks’ Circle of Friends Humane Society, officials said Monday.
State Veterinarian Susan Keller said the North Dakota Board of Animal Health assessed the dogs that were at the facility from March 15 to 20, the timeframe of possible contact with the rabies carrier.
Keller said she had several discussions with Circle of Friends Executive Director Arlette Moen, who explained that they don’t allow the dogs to come into direct contact with each other and take other precautions.
The facility’s actions mean the risk of transmission was low, Keller said, but Moen still couldn’t guarantee that exposure didn’t happen.
“Because of the human health concerns ... we want to be cautious,” Keller said. “We want to make sure that we’re erring on the conservative side here.”
‘The right thing’
Moen said about 20 at-risk dogs still are at Circle of Friends, and another 14 have been adopted. Officials still are determining how many will need to be euthanized.
“The Board of Animal Health wants to err on the side of caution, and that’s important,” she said. “When you’re talking about human health and other pets, you want to do the right thing for everybody involved.”
Cookie, a blue healer mix, was picked up with another stray March 9 in Marshall County, Minn., and brought to Circle of Friends. She was sent to a Grafton foster home March 20 and began to show rabies symptoms five days later.
March 27, Cookie was taken to a veterinarian and euthanized. Tissue samples tested positive for rabies, and officials were notified March 31.
Rabies, a virus that affects mammals, is almost always fatal. It is spread through a bite or saliva contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, like the eyes and mouth.
Keller said the dogs at risk of contact likely will be euthanized this week by a veterinarian, then be burned or buried in approved animal landfills.
The North Dakota Department of Health will contact people who adopted the 14 other at-risk dogs to inform them of their options. The No. 1 recommendation is to euthanize the animals, Keller said, but owners can put the dogs into strict quarantine for six months — the amount of time it could take for rabies symptoms to emerge.
Tim Haak, Grand Forks Public Health Department environmental health supervisor, said his office has taken about 50 calls from people concerned about their contact with Cookie.
Callers were asked a series of questions to determine the extent of their contact with Cookie. Haak said about 15 people were referred to their physicians, including the Grafton family who had Cookie in foster care, and they likely will need to get a series of vaccinations.
“There may be some that we don’t consider a high risk, but because of other factors they may decide to get the shots anyway,” he said.
Keller said she’s never heard of a case like this in her 12 years of working for the state.
“This is definitely a unique situation, but the take-home message is how important it is for people to keep track of their animals so we don’t have stray animals,” she said.
It’s also important to have pets wear a tag that identifies their owner and vaccination history, Keller said. If all those steps were taken by pet owners, she said, “we wouldn’t be dealing with this problem.”
Moen said several people have asked why Circle of Friends doesn’t vaccinate all the animals for rabies. She pointed out vaccinating Cookie wouldn’t have helped because the dog already had the virus.
Another problem, Moen said, is it would take a six-month quarantine of all new animals to ensure they don’t have rabies. That’s impossible when the facility gets 35 to 40 animals a week, she said.
And it takes several weeks after a vaccination before the animal is thoroughly protected, she said, more time than the facility usually has the pet before they are adopted.
Keller said the Humane Society’s practices, especially the steps they take to avoid direct contact between the animals, is “very impressive.”
“I think that they probably go above and beyond what many shelters do,” she said. “I cannot say that we could criticize that shelter.”
But there’s an inherent problem in any animal shelter, Keller said, because the animals that come in are often strays and workers usually don’t know if the pets are up to date on vaccinations.
That means they have to assume the animals haven’t been vaccinated, part of the reason why dogs that had even minimal exposure to Cookie likely will be put down.
Moen said the staff understands the recommendation, but the situation is still “incredibly difficult” for workers and volunteers.
“It’s difficult to accept for most of the gals that come in here everyday and take care of them and love them and try to find homes for them,” she said.
But there’s not much more the Humane Society could have done to prevent this, Moen said, and they already take several steps to minimize dogs’ contact with each other.
“There’s no way to absolutely separate animals unless they are housed in little glass cages and kept there and never removed, and that’s just not the way to deal with pets,” she said.
Ryan Johnson is a reporter at The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.