A single rabid animal has lead to plans to euthanize 40 dogs at a Texas animal shelter. It’s very similar to a situation I discussed with vet students recently, and it’s one that raises a lot of emotions.
The brief version…one rabid dog was identified in the shelter.
- This means that consideration has to be given to who (people and animals) was exposed to the dog.
- If the shelter cannot state with confidence that a particular dog was not exposed to the affected dog (e.g. if they don’t strictly cohort groups and/or follow these practices), then it’s considered exposed. Fortunately, only 40 of the over 300 animals at this shelter were deemed potentially exposed. It’s not clear if this is because some dogs were considered unexposed or, more likely, that all dogs were considered exposed but cats were kept separately and therefore not exposed.
- A dog that’s been exposed to rabies needs a 45 day observation period (if properly vaccinated) or 6 month quarantine (if not known to be properly vaccinated) or euthanasia.
What are the odds that any other dogs were actually infected? Very low.
Is euthanasia, then, a reasonable response? Unfortunately, yes, in many situations.
This is where people start to get upset. Why euthanize these perfectly healthy dogs if none were likely going to get rabies and you can simply quarantine them?
At a basic level, I agree. But, when you think about it more, these actions make sense.
- Yes, the dogs could be quarantined, but how? That would involve keeping them in the shelter for 6 months, since fostering out rabies-exposed dogs would be hard to justify.
- If they quarantine them in the shelter, they essentially have to keep the shelter closed since it would make no sense to bring in more dogs (that would have to be strictly isolated from the others) and there’s probably little or no room for added dogs anyway.
- As a result, instead of being admitted to the shelter, the animals might be euthanized on the doorstep, since there’s often not a "plan B" for sheltering.
So, does it make sense to shut down the shelter for quarantine? That’s hard to justify. The net impact on dogs (both those in the shelter and those that would be admitted) plus considerations of shelter operations (e.g. lots of presumably unvaccinated people having to work with potentially exposed animals) need to be part of the discussion.
Unfortunate as it is, this is often the response. Ideally, there’d be a way to isolate these dogs and continue shelter operations (and pay for the extra costs associated with doing this). In the real world, this is rarely an option.
All of this could potentially have been prevented if the affected dog had been properly vaccinated by its original owners.