California Rabies Control: From a tiny virus, and way beyond.

At last night’s Summer Science Lecture at Stanford University, The Secret Live of Viruses, by Stanford faculty member Dr. Robert Siegel, between my companion and myself, we corrected guessed each of the “guess the virus” questions posed to the audience — she knowing best those associated with vaccines and I, those with animals. Easiest for me was the one that stumped most of this sophisticated audience –rabies. In the 1990’s, TAC was a member of the California Department of Health Services Veterinary Public Health Unit Animal Welfare, Public Health & Safety Working Group. That effort produced a comprehensive understanding of rabies as a public health issue and a large collection of materials, all hard-copy in those days. These included the historic Annual Reports of Local Rabies Control Activities that included some animal control data as reported by county public health departments. Every year, we would call the DHS-VPHU office to ask when the prior year’s report might be available — usually well delayed but worth waiting for, at least to evaluate trends.

After the Hayden bill (1998 SB 1785) was enacted (the law required keeping shelter data, Food & Ag Code Section 32003*), a number of regularly reporting counties lagged for years with the Rabies Control reports, and the DHS just stopped releasing these reports until the issue came to the fore after the 2005 SB 861 required local jurisdictions to have current reports on file in order to enacted ordinances enabled by that bill (i.e, breeding and/or sterilization regulation of any specified dog breeds). Eventually, DHS began releasing reports with cautionary notice as to incomplete data. Knowledgeable readers would also realize that some individual categories, especially licensing that is administered by other agencies or outside contractors, were not “real” numbers, if reported at all.

Despite the context limitations, these reports do clearly show the drastic decline in shelter euthanasia of dogs from our file’s base year of 1980 — 437,776 to the 2008 draft report of 151,874 (7 counties of 58 not reporting). Remember, this is raw data, not adjusted for increased human population over 28 years. That’s statistically significant no matter how you do the math. Remember, too, that California has been very effective with its rabies control efforts with only rare, isolated cases in either dogs or cats. This underscores the over-arching public policy interest in keeping animal control regulations, local or state, simple to understand and minimally punitive for California’s diverse population. To do otherwise is to ignore the danger of Stanford’s Dr. Siegel’s description of the rabies virus — only one survivor, ever.

Sharon A. Coleman
President, The Animal Council

* California Food & Ag Code, Section 32003. All public pounds and private shelters shall keep accurate records on each animal taken up, medically treated, or impounded. The records shall include all of the following information and any
other information required by the California Veterinary Medical Board:
(a) The date the animal was taken up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded.
(b) The circumstances under which the animal was taken up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded.
(c) The names of the personnel who took up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded the animal.
(d) A description of any medical treatment provided to the animal and the name of the veterinarian of record.
(e) The final disposition of the animal, including the name of the person who euthanized the animal or the name and address of the adopting party. These records shall be maintained for three years
after the date the animal’s impoundment ends.


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