On October 23, Mattapoisett held its fall rabies clinic at the fire station. Maybe you were there. I sure hope so. Or maybe you are keeping up with rabies inoculations through your preferred veterinarian. Either way, you’ve done your due diligence. But what you might not know is there is another layer of safety that can blindside even the most knowledgeable pet owner.

All animal control officers and veterinarians must comply with state-mandated protocols that help to ensure the containment and control of rabies. This is no easy task. But the shocking truth is that rabies is a widespread contagion along the eastern seaboard. So, whether you live year round in the Tri-Town area or fly south with Spot and Fluffy for a winter in warmer climes, you need to know the regulations governing rabies control.

The latest bulletin from the nationally known American Humane Association is a good place to learn more about this dangerous disease. At www.americanhumane.org, you’ll find the following information from their August 2016 press release:

“Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system; infects any warm-blooded animal; is almost always fatal; the only test for rabies infection is on deceased animals oftentimes ones that have been euthanized; it is spread through saliva and can be transmitted through bite wounds or other broken skin areas; incubation is from 3 to 8 weeks; rabies is endemic throughout the continental U.S. but prevalent along the east coast from Maine to Florida and in southern Arizona to the Mexican border.” And the website sheds light on why most states quarantine even inoculated animals whether they are the victim or the perpetrator of a biting incident.

The state of Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Division of Animal Health regulates the protocol required for management of dogs and cats exposed to other domestic animals. In its August 1, 2016 bulletin, they have two categories for rabies exposure. Category 1 is for visible bites or scratches from another animal that has been identified. In this category, the biting animal, whether currently vaccinated or not currently vaccinated, is automatically placed on 10 days of strict confinement or quarantine either at home or in another identified secure area. At the end of the 10 days, if the animal is healthy, the victim is presumed to be rabies-free. If the biting animal exhibits illness, it will be euthanized and the brain will be biopsied for rabies. In this instance, the victim will receive a rabies booster and be strictly confined for 45 days.

Category 2 is a bit more straightforward. If an unknown animal bites a victim, the victim should receive a booster shot and go into strict confinement for 45 days.

In all cases, the local animal control officer must be contacted directly and usually will be in contact with the attending veterinarian as well.

Mattapoisett Animal Control Officer Kathy Massey said, “If there is an animal under confinement at home, I’ll do a drive by to make sure its inside.” She said it is difficult to keep animals quarantined, but necessary to ensure animals and humans are safe. Massey added, “If I find a confined dog or cat outside, it’s a $500 fine.” She said lack of compliance is a liability to the community.

Local veterinarian Dr. Jill O’Brien discussed how she manages a bite wound victim.

“The big deciding factor in determining how to handle a biting incident is if the victim is up-to-date with vaccinations.” She said that if that is the case, the state now allows veterinarians to give a booster immediately without waiting 10 days.

O’Brian also explained what strict-confinement means. She said that the state considers compliance with that mandate if the animal is not able to escape outside, possibly having the space inspected by animal control professionals, and restrained via a leash when taken into the yard for brief periods. O’Brien’s parting words were, “Keep your animals up to date.”

You will find the Massachusetts regulations at

http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/id/public-health-regulations-communicable-diseases.html or contact your local animal control officer for more information

By Marilou Newell


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