Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman has reported what he said is the first incident in his career of the discovery of rabies in a domestic animal.
Testerman said that on July 27 a dog in the Crumpler area bit the elderly man who had been feeding him. The man became concerned about the bite, said Testerman, and brought the dog, a young shepherd mix, to animal control on Saturday, July 28 and reported the incident.
Testerman said the man reported the dog had been staying in the area for several months and there was no record of rabies vaccination. The dog was very aggressive to the animal control officer who quarantined him at the shelter.
"The dog appeared normal and healthy, but aggressive," said Testerman. "He was eating and drinking and acting normally."
By Monday, July 30, Testerman said he noticed the dog "exhibiting neurological symptoms."
"He was shaking and appeared confused," Testerman said.
Testerman said he contacted the local health department and state veterinarian's office in Raleigh, both of which suggested testing the dog for rabies.
The dog was euthanized and tissue from the brain sent to the state testing lab, Testerman said. Results came back on Aug. 1 confirming the presence of rabies.
"From that point we notified the victim who began post exposure treatment," said Testerman. He added that the man also brought in several other dogs and cats he had been caring for that may have been exposed to the rabid dog. They were being quarantined at the shelter until the man decided whether to have them quarantined for six months or euthanized.
Once rabies had been confirmed in the dog brought to the shelter, Testerman said his officers notified the neighborhood.
"We went to the Crumpler area where the dog had been staying and went to every house within three quarters of a mile notifying residents, checking rabies vaccination records for animals, and posting rabies alert notices,” he said. “During our canvassing of the area, we found no sign of affected wildlife."
Testerman said the animal control officers warned residents to report stray animals in the area and any abnormal behavior from wildlife.
Testerman said state law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets to be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian. The first vaccination is good for one year and subsequent booster vaccinations are good for three years. Dogs are required to wear collars displaying tags confirming current rabies vaccination along with local tax tag. Cats and ferrets are not required to wear the tags but they must be available for inspection.
There is a $50 fine per animal for no current rabies vaccination, an additional $50 fine per dog not displaying a current rabies tag and $50 fine for no tax tag.
"In the event your animal is exposed to a known rabid animal, your animal must receive a rabies booster vaccine within five days," said Testerman, "and if your animal is unvaccinated or the vaccination has expired, your animal must be euthanized or quarantined for six months at a licensed veterinarian's office at your expense. That can cost $1,800."
That five day limit on your animal getting a booster shot can be difficult to achieve, said Testerman, adding that it is in place mainly to respond to a domestic animal, such as a dog, getting into a fight with a wild raccoon that could be rabid. The dog's owner would most likely know about the incident and report it immediately. Animal control officers would be called to deal with the raccoon and the dog would get a booster rabies shot.
On the other hand, if a dog or cat has a fight with a wild animal out of sight of the owner, and then comes home and the family is exposed, there would be no way to know if the pet had been exposed to rabies, said Testerman, and might then expose family members or other family pets.
"The only protection for you and your family is to be up to date with rabies vaccinations for your pets," he said. Rabies in a person is fatal if not treated, Testerman said, and once there are signs or symptoms of rabies, treatment would not likely help and a person could die.
How to protect yourself and pets
Testerman said that Ashe County Animal Control and North Carolina Wildlife suggest not providing wildlife with food sources, such as leaving pet food outside that can be eaten by wild animals including raccoons and possums. Raccoons will also eat birdseed, he said. And all mammals are susceptible to contracting rabies.
As for bats, Testerman said if you wake up in the morning and find a bat in your home that could have accessed your food area, you should call 911 immediately and animal control officers will come and contain the bat. If you find a bat in your house, he said, you should leave the area and close it up and call for help.
Testerman said that hundreds of animals are submitted each month to the state's testing facility, but the state will only accept wildlife that has bitten or exposed humans and/or domestic animals, and domestic animals that have owners and whose rabies vaccinations have expired.
"If you have any suspicion of your animal having been bitten or exposed to wildlife or unvaccinated animals, you should report this immediately to animal control," said Testerman. "It may save your life."
For more information or to report suspected cases of potential rabies exposure of an animal, call Ashe County Animal Control at 982-4060 or call 911. Ashe County Animal Control is located at 767 Fred Pugh Road in Crumpler, and currently open to the public 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 10:30 to noon on Saturday. Office is closed on Wednesday. Go online to www.asheanimals.com