The law requires rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats.
In Hamilton County, compliance with vaccination laws is spotty, at best. Health department officials report that only 55 percent of dogs and 19 percent of cats here were vaccinated last year. Those numbers are unacceptable, especially since pet vaccinations are available at countywide, low-cost rabies clinics as well as at veterinarians’ offices. The clinics, held from 4 to 6 p.m., at more than 60 sites, start Friday and continue though April 28. A complete schedule was printed in Tuesday’s edition of the Times Free Press and is available online at timesfreepress.com.
Pet owners offer varied excuses for their failure to have their animals vaccinated. None, including the fact that there have been no human cases of rabies here in recent years, is acceptable. Rabies is still widespread in the wild — four rabid bats were identified in the county last year — and history suggests that a low rate of vaccination greatly increases the risk of rabies infection for pets and their owners.
That’s because household pets are far more likely to have contact with bats, raccoons and foxes — the typical carriers of rabies — than people. That’s not a far-fetched possibility in the contemporary urban-suburban environment where humans and wild animals live in ever-closer proximity to each other. If a vaccinated pet is bitten by rabid wildlife, it will not contract the disease. Without vaccination, a pet is likely to get the ailment and then pass it on.
That’s because rabies is often very hard to identify in its early stages, and an infected animal might not have signs of illness. Thus, a pet owner or someone else could contract the disease from contact — say, a lick that touches a sore or cut — and contract the disease. Rabies is fatal if it is not treated quickly. Thankfully, deaths are not as common as in the past. Today, antidotes are available and far less frightening and painful than they once were. Still, prompt treatment is necessary.
The dearth of rabies cases here and across the country in the last few years should not lull pet owners or the general public into a false sense of security. Rabies is still a deadly threat. Those who fail to vaccinate their pets — whether at the clinics that start Friday or at their veterinarian’s office — are violating that law. Compliance with the rabies ordinance rather than willfully ignoring it would make pet-owning households and the communities where they live far safer places.