It was about 10:30 on Wednesday night (June 27th) when I heard those words from the Animal Control officer.
It was shocking news, to say the least.
Our dog was “Teddy,” a four-year-old Sheltie, and a much-loved pet.
The trouble started when Teddy tangled with a raccoon.
About 9:45 on Wednesday night, we’d put Teddy out in our fenced back yard for her last potty break. Typically she runs to her favorite corner, takes care of business, and then returns quickly to the door, ready for bed.
This time, she did not return quickly to the back door. We found her fixated on something, and barking incessantly.
When we went outside to investigate, we found that Teddy was barking at a sickly, blood-soaked raccoon, curled up against the chain-link fence in a corner of our yard.
The wretched animal had been in a brutal fight, and had a limb nearly severed from its body.
The animal’s sufferings were great. I called animal control, thinking that they’d show up quickly and euthanize this poor creature.
Twenty minutes later, their familiar blue and white truck arrived. By now, this raccoon had stumbled over to the shed in our backyard (about 30 feet away) and collapsed.
Using the “Noose On a Stick,” the animal control officer placed the now-unconscious raccoon into a cat carrier.
The animal control officer informed us that if the raccoon tested positive for rabies, our beloved Teddy would have to be euthanized.
Standing out there in the dark, with hubby Wayne at my side, I felt my heart sink to my knees.
I produced a rabies certificate, and explained that Teddy was current on all vaccinations. The animal control officer said it didn’t matter, and she re-stated that Teddy must be euthanized immediately if the raccoon tested positive.
Teddy has a massive white mane. The raccoon was soaked in blood. If Teddy had had any physical contact, she’d have blood on her mane. There was not one drop.
The animal control officer said that the raccoon may have hissed and spit - literally - in Teddy’s eyes, and since the saliva carries the live virus, that could “expose” Teddy to rabies.
It was a long night for me, Wayne and Teddy.
I stayed up all night, alternately crying, praying and hugging my little Sheltie. I was beside myself.
Thursday morning, I was standing at our vet’s office (”Dog and Cat Hospital“) when they opened the doors at 7:45 am.
The receptionist listened to my story and said, “Oh good grief, someone has made a mistake. Teddy’s current on her shots. Now if she was NOT current, that’d be a different matter.”
I started to tear up, from sheer relief.
Teddy and I were ushered into an exam room pretty quickly. When the veterinarian appeared, she calmly repeated what the receptionist told us.
“Teddy’s current on her rabies shots. We’ll give her a booster right now, but I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
She also explained to me that, worse-case scenario, if the raccoon tested positive for rabies, Teddy would be quarantined for 45 days, but that it would almost certainly be an “in-home quarantine.”
The veterinarian then examined Teddy from head to toe, and found no evidence of bites or scratches or contact. I told her that when we’d found Teddy and the raccoon, Teddy was excitedly barking, and running to and fro.
The vet put gently placed her hands on either side of Teddy’s head and went nose to nose with my little dog.
Speaking softly, she said, “You were just doing your job, weren’t you? You were trying to let them know that there was an intruder in the yard.”
The vet then looked up at me and said, “A sheltie will dance around and bark a lot, but they wouldn’t get close enough to a raccoon to bite or get bitten.”
The vet affirmed that the animal control officer’s information was incorrect, and she then offered to call the health department on my behalf. About two hours later, someone from the Health Department contacted me and was profoundly apologetic.
The official was humble and sincere. She told me that the veterinarian was correct.
Since Teddy was current on all her shots, state law would require - at most - a 45-day in-home quarantine. That was the worst-case scenario.
I could live with that.
And that was if the raccoon tested positive for rabies.
Friday afternoon, about 48 hours after all the brouhaha began, the health department contacted us and said that the raccoon had tested positive for rabies.
There’d be three visits from the Health Department during the 45-day period. The first would explain the rules of the quarantine and inspect our backyard. The official would also give the dog a cursory inspection. The second visit from the health department would be about mid-way through, and during the third visit, they’d examine the dog one last time and release us from the quarantine.
We were given informational pamphlets which explained the quarantine and what to watch out for.
Because of the quarantine, we canceled our big party on July 4th. We canceled an out-of-town trip. There were some other adjustments to be made. Teddy could not be left in the backyard unless we were home, keeping an eye on her. When it was dark outside (early morning/late evening), we went out with her.
It was a hassle, but we didn’t mind. We love our dog. For Christmas, Santa brought Teddy a doggy bed from L. L. Bean with her name embroidered on it. Even Teddy’s toy box is monogrammed.
We don’t have little children in our home. We have a dog. And we love her.
Through this experience, I learned some very important things about rabies: Things that every pet owner should know.
1) Most importantly, your dog/cat should be kept current on their rabies vaccination.
If Teddy was not current on her rabies vaccine, she’d now be dead.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, an exposure to rabies (such as occurred with Teddy and the raccoon) is enough to require that the pet be seized and destroyed immediately.
Did you know that?
I did not.
2) An “encounter” (such as Teddy had) is enough to require the animal’s destruction.
Think about that.
And if the pet is bitten or scratched (and is not current on its vaccination), it must be destroyed. That’s the law, and given what I now know about rabies, it’s a sensible law.
3) Rabies is one of a very few diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people. And despite all our 21st Century medical innovations, there is no cure for rabies.
By the time symptoms manifest in a human, it’s over. That’s why the state laws are so stringent. There are only three known cases of a human being surviving rabies (sans immediate treatment).
4) Treatment for rabies isn’t really treatment, in the traditional sense of the word.
After you’ve been exposed to rabies, you’ll need to have a series of shots as soon as possible after the exposure. According to the CDC, the “postexposure prophylaxis consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period.”
I’m the kid who skipped biology class in high school, but as I understand it, if you’re exposed to the rabies virus (which is transmitted through saliva), you’re then vaccinated for rabies. In short, your body’s immune system builds up an immunity and outruns the rabies virus, and you’re then protected from the disease. That’s why it’s so important to get treatment as fast as possible.
By the time that symptoms appear, it’s too late.
5) There is no way to test humans or animals for rabies.
Well, let me restate that. There is a way. Only one way. The animal is decapitated and its head is sent to the state health department (in our case, Richmond). Medical staff check the animal’s brain for the presence of the rabies virus.
Nasty bit of business.
Short of decapitation, there is no way to test humans or animals for the presence of the rabies virus.
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Our 45-day in-home quarantine is now over and Teddy and I are mighty relieved.
Yes, she’s “just a dog,” but she is dearly loved.
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