After a local dog tested positive for a deadly strain of rabies, the director of the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter is stressing that pet owners take precautions to insure their animals avoid the disease.
On Tuesday evening, during a meeting of the joint city/county Animal Control Board, Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs informed the board that a dog contracted a strain of raccoon rabies after it fought with a skunk that wandered into its yard along state Route 107.
Dobbs said that after the fight, the dog was quarantined from all human contact while awaiting the results of a rabies test. By Thursday, she said, they knew the answer.
“Unfortunately, the dog had to be put down because it was positive (for) rabies,” Dobbs said. “It was the bad strain, which is raccoon rabies.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, if gone untreated, the raccoon rabies strain is fatal to animals and humans in every instance. Information collected by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency shows that the first recorded case of raccoon rabies in Tennessee occurred in June 2003 in Carter County, when four rabid raccoons were found with the disease.
Since that time, the state health department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has worked to combat the spread of raccoon rabies across the rest of the state through the use of oral rabies vaccine bait.
Although the government has taken steps to limit the spread of rabies, Dobbs said pet owners are in a position to help, too. In the instance of the dog on Route 107, for instance, Dobbs said one of the main reasons it needed to be put down was because its owners were unaware that their dog needed repeat vaccinations.
“The dog had not had any rabies vaccinations for seven years,” Dobbs said. “They had once when it was 1 year old, and didn’t know they had to get them for the next six years.”
Vaccinations, she said, are the best defense from any strain of rabies for both people and animals.
“That’s our barrier between the wild animals and us,” she said. “Keep the vaccinations up.”
Additionally, Dobbs recommended that everyone take care not to attract wild animals — including known rabies carriers like raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats — to their homes. Keeping food inside, tightly securing trash bins and leaving an outdoor light on are all effective ways to deter wild animals from one’s home, she said.
Dobbs added that city residents, along with county residents, were also cautioned against risking rabies exposure.
“There’s a lot of wildlife out there, not just out in the county off of 107,” she said. “Johnson City is in the middle of the woods, and we moved into their community.”
Also during the ACB meeting:
n Dobbs reported that a basset hound/pit bull mix named Buster was euthanized on Tuesday morning after it attacked Todd Davidson, one of the shelter’s kennel cleaners.
At around 9:45 a.m., Davidson was cleaning the kennels before the shelter opened, Dobbs said, when Buster grabbed hold of a hose.
“Because Todd tried to get him off the hose, (Buster) attacked his hand,” she said. “When he panicked, the dog attacked his leg. It tore him up pretty bad.”
Dobbs said Davidson was taken to Johnson City Medical Center for treatment of his injuries. As of Tuesday evening, Mountain States Health Alliance personnel said he was not registered as a patient.
After the attack, Buster was put to sleep. During the meeting, Dobbs said she was unaware as to what caused the attack.
“We’ve had him since June 10,” Dobbs said. “He has been to numerous adoption events. He was great with people, but something set him off today.”
n In the animal report, Dobbs reported more than 200 animals found new homes through the shelter and satellite agencies in July.
In total, 202 animals were adopted from the shelter and PetSmart, which takes live-in pets from the animal control center. Additionally, 34 animals were transferred to rescue groups and 49 were returned to their owners.
While July boasted high numbers of adoptions, it also boasted what Dobbs said were “too many” instances of euthanasia. A total of 579 animals were brought into the shelter in July, Dobbs said, and, in some instances, there wasn’t enough space for some of them.
“We haven’t had to euthanize any healthy, manageable dogs,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had to do cats and kittens of the feral disposition ... way too many.”
Ultimately, Dobbs said, 84 feral cats and 131 feral kittens were euthanized because of a lack of space.
“During the summer months, that can’t be helped,” Dobbs said. “There’s not enough space to keep them for weeks on end to tame them. Unfortunately, (those) are the ones that were euthanized.”
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