It’s not the typical or a desired sign of spring, but East Greenwich has had it none the same. There have been three cases rabid or possibly rabid animals in people’s yards in recent weeks. (Coincidentally, there is a town rabies vaccine clinic taking place Sunday – but more on that at the end of this article.)
According to State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, the weather does play a role in the incidence of rabid animal and pet or human contact. Many animals hibernate or are in a “state of torpor” during winter and start to travel more when the weather improves. People, too, tend to be outdoors more in spring. So the likelihood of the two groups coming into contact increases.
That’s certainly been the case in East Greenwich the past couple weeks.
On March 19, a resident of Shady Hill Drive called police after an encounter with a fox that had been chasing his dog. The dog had been in the backyard on a leash attached to a run. When the resident saw the fox chasing the dog, a Bassett hound, he grabbed a snow shovel and started hitting the fox. The fox continued to be aggressive, according to the report, and the man hit the fox until it was dead.
Because the dog was up on its rabies vaccine, there was no need for quarantine.
On Saturday, March 22, a resident of Spring Street (the other side of town from Shady Hill) called police after finding a raccoon “curled up into himself just lying there … we couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead,” the resident said. Police arrived and shot the animal with a rifle. Animals that may be rabid – and the officer told the resident the animal was almost certainly rabid based on its behavior – are only tested by the state if they come into direct contact with humans or pets. Because this animal did not, it was simply disposed of without testing.
A third incident took place Monday, March 24, coincidentally (or not) directly across the street on Spring Street from the March 22 incident.
In that instance, the residents’ dog killed a skunk and dragged it out from under their shed that evening. That animal was tested and rabies was confirmed. Because one of the residents had checked the dog for cuts, thereby exposing him to the rabid skunk’s saliva, he had to undergo a series of rabies vaccination shots. The dog, which was up to date on its rabies vaccine, required no additional treatment or quarantine.
If either of the dogs had NOT been up to date with the rabies vaccine, the state would have required it be quarantined for six months. That’s right – six months. This is not home confinement. Because of the public health concerns, the animal would need to be quarantined at some sort of professional facility such as an animal hospital, at the owner’s expense.
While that sounds punitive, according to the state’s Marshall, it’s not meant to be.
“That’s a high-risk exposure,” he said, referring to rabid animal to unvaccinated pet contact, “so the likelihood of transmission is high.”
He acknowledged that it’s easy for a pet owner to get behind on vaccinations, but defended the policy.
“It’s not a punishment. This is strictly a measure we take for public health and public safety. It’s not meant to punish … it’s meant to protect.”
If your pet needs a rabies vaccine, you are in luck. The town is holding its yearly rabies vaccination clinic this coming Sunday, April 6, at the Police Department. The clinic takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. and the vaccine costs $12. If you bring in a certificate that your pet got the one-year rabies vaccine within the last 12 months, your pet can get the three-year vaccine.
If you have any questions about the clinic, contact EG Animal Control Officer Renee Young at the EGPD, 884-2244.
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