There is good news and potential bad news when it comes to rabies in Weston this year.
The good news is the number of animals reported with rabies is down — way down from last year and previous years, according to Weston Animal Control Officer Mark Harper.
But the bad news is the number of Weston pet owners who have licensed their dogs, a process that requires proof of rabies immunization, is also way down. This means many dogs in town could be vulnerable to contracting and spreading the fatal virus.
On the positive side, Mr. Harper said the number of reports of sickly, possibly rabid, animals is much lower this year than in 2011. So far, he has only had two reports of possible rabid raccoons. Last year, he had to euthanize 30.
“That is the way with rabies. There are peaks and there are valleys. Some years it is very widespread and you see a lot of sick and rabid raccoons. They take a beating and die off. This year, raccoons are much healthier,” he said.
Raccoons are just one of many animals that can play a key role in the spread of rabies in this area of the country. Dogs and cats can easily come in contact with or have an altercation with a rabid wild animal and they, in turn, can spread the virus to humans.
Rabies is an acute viral disease. Transmission of the virus usually begins when the infected saliva of a host is passed to an uninfected animal.
Once the virus is in the body, it spreads through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. It incubates in the body for about three to 12 weeks, during which time the infected animal will usually not exhibit any symptoms of the deadly disease.
However, the rabies virus multiplies rapidly once it reaches the brain. It passes into the salivary glands, and only then will the infected animal begin to show signs of the disease. The infected animal usually dies within seven days of becoming sick.
Raccoons, foxes and bats are the most common known carriers of rabies, although skunks and woodchucks have been known to transmit it as well.
Rabies is also transmittable to humans. Once the rabies virus spreads to the brain, the disease is seldom reversible and is usually fatal.
Post-exposure rabies vaccinations are available for humans but must be given before the onset of symptoms, as there is no cure once rabies symptoms appear.
Mr. Harper said it is important to take precautions when dealing with a pet that may have been exposed to rabies.
“When you have to tear a dog or cat away from a wild animal, put gloves on first before touching the animal, and then immediately wash your hands with soapy water afterwards,” he said.
He recommends quarantining a dog or cat that may have been exposed to rabies and calling Animal Control for help. “Anyone who observes a wild animal acting out of the ordinary should call me at 203-222-2642,” he said.
Because rabies is a public health threat, it is important to protect pets. Vaccinating dogs and cats is the most effective method of preventing the spread of rabies from area wildlife to domestic animals and their human caretakers. “It’s crucial that owners get their dogs immunized,” Mr. Harper said.
In an effort to keep track of dogs that have been vaccinated for rabies, the state requires proof of vaccination for dogs over six months old at the time a dog is licensed.
Getting a dog license is not only a health issue, it’s also the law, said Mr. Harper. “The law states that dogs are to wear their licenses and rabies tags,” he said.
According to Town Clerk Donna Anastasia, there were 1,250 dogs licensed in Weston in 2011. Mr. Harper believes there are about 400 or 500 more dogs in town that are unlicensed, which means they may also not be current on their rabies shots.
An unlicensed dog can cause problems for others. “Last year there was a boy in town bitten by a dog,” Ms. Anastasia recalled. Because the dog was unlicensed and its rabies registration had expired, the boy had to endure a series of painful injections at the hospital, which he would have avoided had the dog been current on it shots and licensed, she explained.
Another reason to get a license is because it makes it easier to locate a lost dog’s owner. “When dog is found wearing its license tag, we can get the dog back to its home right away because we have a record of who the owner is, ” Ms. Anastasia said.
Dog licenses expire on June 30, and need to be renewed in July. Licensing a dog with the town clerk’s office is easy. The dog owner presents a copy of the dog’s rabies certificate and pays the town clerk $8 for a neutered dog, or $19 for an un-neutered dog.
After the dog is initially licensed with the town, the dog owner needs only to send the license renewal in by mail each year.
The fine for having an unlicensed dog is $75 and $125 for an expired rabies vaccination.
Although cats do not need to be licensed, they must be inoculated for rabies and the owner must be able to show proof if Animal Control requests it, or there is a $75 fine.
After July 1, Mr. Harper said if he comes across a dog that is not licensed the owner will be issued a fine and infractions summons.
“It’s not something I want to do, but it’s important for the public’s health that all dogs are current on their rabies shots and licensed,” he said.
For more information on dog licenses, call the town clerk’s office at 203-222-2616, or stop by the office at Weston Town Hall on Norfield Road.