Rabies Vaccination and The Law
Posted at 03:19PM - Comments: (25)
I saw a news item over the weekend announcing that my state’s governor (California’s Jerry Brown) signed “Molly’s Bill” (AB 258), exempting certain dogs from the rabies vaccine requirement. Dogs whose lives would be endangered by the vaccination “due to disease or other considerations that a veterinarian can verify and document” -- as determined by a licensed veterinarian on an annual basis – now have a legal means of avoiding vaccination against rabies. California is the 14th state to sign such a bill into law.
This is great news for dogs who have suffered adverse reactions to rabies vaccines, and for debilitated senior dogs (who have perhaps the longest history or previous vaccinations, the least risk of coming into contact with rabid animals, AND the most risk of suffering side effects of the rabies vaccine). However, it’s NOT a tool that should be used to justify the failure to vaccinate just ANY dog against rabies, for a number of reasons:
1. According to the bill, any dog who receives this exemption would be required to be “confined to the premises of the owner, keeper, or harborer, and would require, if the dog is off the premises of the owner, keeper, or harborer, the dog to be on a leash not to exceed 6 feet in length and to be under the direct physical control of an adult.” Also, “A dog that is exempt from the provisions of this section shall not have contact with a dog or cat that is not currently vaccinated against rabies.” That’s pretty restrictive for many adult dogs – although not necessarily a burden for others.
2. Dogs should be vaccinated against rabies; no responsible owner would forego vaccination altogether. Pet vaccination has reduced the incidence of the disease in pets, wildlife, and humans in this country over the past few decades, but rabies still afflicts plenty of wild animals and poses risks to dogs and cats who come into contact with infected wildlife.
3. Your dog may be vaccinated, and titer tests may show that he is adequately protected from contracting the disease…but if he has been exempted from vaccination by meeting the provisions of this law, he will be considered unvaccinated in the eyes of the law. This can have serious repercussions should he bite another dog or a human and a bite report is filed – or if he has an encounter with a wild animal. In some communities, a dog in these situations might be ordered to be quarantined for 10 days at home; in others, he might be seized by animal control officers and quarantined at an animal shelter.
Rabies vaccinations are a good thing; every dog should have at least two in his lifetime. It’s debatable whether more are needed for the dog’s protection (or to protect public health) – though far more vaccinations are required by state law. We strongly support the Rabies Challenge Fund, which is conducting research that should demonstrate that existing rabies vaccines convey much longer protection than their labels indicate. These studies may well provide the proof needed to further change state laws, so that fewer vaccinations against rabies are required during our dogs’ lifetimes. See rabieschallengefund.org for more details.