By DANYEL VANREENEN
CHARLES TOWN , W.Va. — Rabies vaccines for domestic pets are more important than ever, according to Jefferson County Animal Control supervisor Denise Lambiotte. In the last three weeks, Lambiotte said both a cat and raccoon tested positive for the rabies virus.
Lambiotte said these numbers are something considered normal for the Jefferson County region, and she cautions pet owners to keep dogs and cats up to date on vaccines to protect against the virus.
“We know rabies is prevalent in wildlife,” Lambiotte said. “I don’t have a definitive answer for why there was an increase in the past three weeks, but we know wildlife can pass rabies to domestic animals.”
It’s hard to gauge how many wild animals in the Jefferson County area have rabies because not all animals suspected of being ill are tested, according to Lambiotte.
“The only way to say with certainty that an animal has rabies is by decapitating and testing the brain tissue. We only test for rabies when an animal has had contact with a domesticated animal or a human,” Lambiotte said.
The CDC website says the first symptoms of rabies may include general lethargy, fever, vomiting and loss of appetite. Within days, the virus can cause cerebral dysfunction, cranial nerve dysfunction, lack of muscle coordination, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior, aggression and/or self-mutilation.
However, Lambiotte said many signs of rabies may indicate other diseases or illnesses as well. She advises anyone who sees an animal — wild or domestic — exhibiting possible symptoms of rabies to leave the animal alone.
“Make no attempt to handle the animal or lure it closer,” Lambiotte said. “Most importantly, keep your pets vaccinated.”
In addition to rabies tests, Lambiotte said the Jefferson County Animal Control agency also responds to service calls — primarily for dogs. Although Animal Control does respond to calls for injured animals and some wildlife calls, Lambiotte said the agency does not handle any wildlife nuisance calls.
Animal cruelty investigations, animal welfare checks and returning lost pets to their owners also falls under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson County Animal Control agency.
“We help with adoptions for homeless dogs, and we work with local shelters to find homes for the dogs we deal with,” Lambiotte said. “We’re just a temporary stop in the animals journey, but we’re proud of our 92 percent walk out the door rate.”
Lambiotte said less than eight percent of animals brought to the animal control center are euthanized.
“Those are wonderful numbers,” Lambiotte said. “We don’t put dogs down often, and usually it’s due to illnesses and bite situations.”
As the summer months heat up, Lambiotte advises owners to keep all microchipping data up to date for pets, and she recommends keeping county tags and collars on pets at all times.
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