Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Rabies Raccoon Seven

One of the "Raccoon Seven" on the day of his neuter.
There was an article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday about a Marylander who died from rabies. This is the first death in Maryland since 1976. I was saddened by the report, but unfortunately, I was not surprised by it.

OK, I will freely and openly admit to being completely paranoid about rabies. After all this rabies, it will kill's some serious life threatening stuff. I am afraid because I have seen rabies in my clinic, more than once. I have seen it in a 3 month old kitten and in a 3 year old cat. I have had the fear of exposure of my staff and this fear has haunted me for days as I waited for the lab to return a verdict. I have had to tell young adults with their whole life in front of them that their pet came back positive for rabies and that now they must go see their physician to discuss their exposure and how to protect themselves. I have also seen a family of eight children be exposed when their dog and the 7 puppies that she had just given birth to were all exposed to a rabid dead raccoon. Can you imagine that discussion? All of the kids had to have post-exposure rabies vaccinations, and the puppies had to go into a 6 month quarantine.

Guess what happened when the animal control officer came to their house and informed the family that the puppies and adult dogs and all of the cats (five in total) had to be kept in a double enclosure under state monitoring for 6 months because ALL of them were either waaay overdue on their rabies vaccinations, or never vaccinated at all?  Well when notified of this  they began to think about the expense of keeping these pets and not being able to sell the puppies, so we got a call.

The owners wanted to put the puppies down. Seven, seven week old who are happy healthy playful puppies to put to sleep, that's what they had decided to do about their problem. That call and that day will be forever indelibly etched in my head. Don't ask me how people do it, I don't know. How do you put a needle into a puppy and kill them because the owners have ever gotten their dogs vaccinated? I can't do it, every vet at the clinic refused to do it. That left dropping the puppies at the humane society for someone else to do. I even felt guilty about this. At least if I did it I could anesthetize them, they wouldn't be conscious, but crap, I would live with this guilt forever. It wasn't those puppies fault. And worse than ALL of that was that these puppies might be completely healthy and be put down based on a big MAYBE.

I told my crying angry receptionists to send me the owners information and I made some phone calls.

Tess. On the day for her spay.

Munch. Already adopted.


Teddy.  A happy puppy.
After being spayed. ready for a new home.
After a heated, emotional, and frustrating call to my rescue friends, and a long discussion with the owner that included bartering, begging, and biting of my tongue like never before, we figured out a mutually beneficial arrangement to help take financial and health care custody of the pups if the owners would keep the puppies for their quarantine period. With the assistance of the Harford County MD health department we were able to assemble a suitable enclosure and follow up veterinary care. I saw those puppies every two weeks to monitor their growth, neurological status, and get them vaccinated. At the end of their quarantine period I spayed and neutered 7 puppies (now adolescents lab-Newfoundland mixes) and the adults. It was a long tenuous 180 days, but this story has a happy ending, and how can you ask for more?

Many ENORMOUS THANKS to No Kill Harford for their help and vision.

For the rest of this story see;

Minnie. Looking for a home.

Teddy. Looking for a home.

To learn more about the two raccoon puppies still available for adoption see;

The most common (what a terrible way to put this), way that I see rabies influencing our day to day activities at the clinic is the cat that walks in the door with a wound. Want to know how often this happens? A whole lot, like weekly. Cats that are outside, especially those cats that are un-spayed, or un-neutered, fight over territory. Abcesses and wounds are a very common thing that we see and treat. In almost all cases treating the wounds is rather simple. But the very difficult aspect of all of these cases is trying to identify how these cats got these wounds, and from whom they came from. In the overwhelming majority of cases we cannot exclude that these wounds were not caused by a bite. Because rabies is transmitted by saliva of affected animals we don't know who, when, where, or why. So we play it safe and leave the possibility of rabies on the table. To make things stickier, many of these cats are un-vaccinated, or presumed to be un-vaccinated because they are labeled as a 'stray'. Even if the cat appears to be spayed or neutered we don't know how long it has been since they were vaccinated. All of these unknowns result in a cat that is going to be either euthanized or placed in quarantine for 6 months. Most people who haven't taken the time or put forth the effort to get their cats spayed, neutered, or vaccinated are not so keen on quarantining it for 6 months. Here we go again, another pet who may or may not ever get sick, who may or may not have even been vaccinated, or even exposed to rabies, and I feel guilty about giving up on these guys again.

Ask me how many cats we have kept?, or how many my very compassionate very generous technician has  taken home with her. Or how many our good friends at No Kill Harford have helped us with. I think its about a dozen..

Kept for 6 months by my dear technician.

Also kept by Ms. Kate for her quarantine sentence.

If there is anyway I can convince, beg, plead, every person out there to get and keep their pets vaccinated for rabies??

We at Jarrettsville Vet are going to try to make rabies vaccines easily accessible, affordable and convenient so that maybe we won't have to look into another pets eyes and ask ourselves all of the "what ifs." Keep watching.

Munch..a mug shot.

A BIG Thanks to everyone who joined forces to help save all of these wonderful wonders!

September 2013. I see a few of the pups every so often for routine stuff, and because their families know how much it means to me to see them grow.

This is Belle. A little shy, but the love of her mom's life.
January 10, 2014.
I saw a few of the seven for Pets With Santa, or received little notes and photos from their new families. Seems every single pup is doing very well.

I also spoke to a dear friend this morning. She was telling me about a friend of hers that "was feeding a feral cat for years, and recently noticed that she was acting 'a little off' so she decided to bring her to the vet. While putting her in the carrier she scratched her friend. The vet told her that they were worried about rabies. So consented to putting the cat down and submitting the brain tissue for rabies testing. Which came back positive." My friend went on to tell me that "they had no idea cats got rabies, or that it was so serious."

"Yes," I replied, "rabies will kill you."

Her friend has just finished all of her post exposure shots, and has to put all of her cats into a 6 month quarantine.

Please do not handle an unknown animal. It just might kill you.


  1. It seems to me one solution, at least to see if a cat or any animal, is to develop a blood test or saliva test to see if they carry rabies.

    Good job Jarrettsville Vets.

  2. How feasible is it to forgo the rabies vaccinations if I'm careful to keep my cats away from any other animal? They are indoor cats and almost never go outside, except maybe 10 minutes at a time, to eat the grass in the backyard. When they're outside, I supervise them at ALL times, and they never even so much as glance at the fence with the idea of jumping over. They barely stray far from the open back door, and at the slightest strange noise, they all run back inside. It's only transferred through bites, correct? So any animal traipsing through my yard isn't likely to leave anything infectious behind, right?