Putnam Co in WV has a rabies policy which seems to differ significantly from the state laws regarding rabies quarantine and related protocols. The primary difference for owned pets is that under the Putnam Co policy, any dog, cat or ferret who bites a person is required to be quarantined for 10 days “at the Putnam Co Animal Shelter or at an approved Veterinarian’s office at the owner’s expense”. The confinement must begin “within the hour” and there are “no exceptions”.
Animal advocates and owners have complained that owned pets should be allowed to be quarantined at home, as indicated by state law. The ability to quarantine at home can be essential to keeping a pet with the owner as some owners can not afford an unexpected expense of immediate quarantine boarding at a facility. There are obviously other risks for seized pets in the shelter as we will see in a moment. Putnam Co contends that WV law does not provide for home quarantine for bite cases. This appears to me to be incorrect.
1. The WV state form for reporting an animal bite indicates on page 4 that “Home” is one of the options for the location where an owned pet may be quarantined after a bite.
2. Under “Strict Isolation” (page 6 of the pdf) in the state’s Rabies Surveillance, Management and Control Manual, it states:
A kennel in a veterinary hospital, animal control facility, commercial boarding establishment, or a pen at home (see Appendix A) that prevents direct contact between the animal and any human or other animal, but allows for observation, feeding, watering and sanitation. The local Sanitarian is responsible for approving the adequacy of the isolation unit.
3. Appendix A (page 23 of the pdf) provides plans for constructing a pen suitable for quarantining an unvaccinated pet at home.
4. Appendix G (page 36 of the pdf) offers “Home” as one of the places an animal may be confined.
5. Appendix H (page 37 of the pdf) is a form instructing an owner about home quarantine of a pet.
Given these references, it seems clear to me that the state of WV code does indeed allow for owned pets who bite a person to be quarantined at home.
In the case of a bite by a stray dog, cat or ferret, the Putnam Co rabies policy calls for immediate killing of the animal with a possible exception:
However, if the animal has the appearance of an owned pet, the supervisor will be notified immediately for case review to determine if a short waiting period will be allowed for the possible claiming of the animal by its owner.
In the case of a bite by a stray dog, cat or ferret, the state’s Rabies Surveillance, Management and Control Manual states:
[…] the local health officer shall direct the county humane officer, dog warden or sheriff to confine the suspect animal for a period of 10 days for rabies observation.
This appears on page 9 of the pdf and does list cases where immediate euthanasia and testing may be preferable to the 10 day quarantine (for example in the case of a fatality). The Putnam Co policy lists these same conditions.
Why does Putnam Co need this extremely stringent rabies policy? You might be wondering if rabies in companion animals has been a problem in recent years there. I wondered that myself.
In all of WV, cases of rabies in dogs and cats have been rare in the past decade (see page 4), with 2007 and 2009 each showing 4 cat cases and zero dogs (2008 shows 8 cats cases and zero dogs). A note at the bottom of page 6 of this 2008 rabies report from the state lists Putnam as one of the counties where the raccoon strain of rabies has never been identified within its borders. This state document lists all cases of positive rabies tests by county for 2000 through 2009. Putnam Co appears on page 41 and, aside from 3 bats scattered over the years, Putnam Co doesn’t have a whole lot going on rabies-wise. In fact, the number of dogs, cats and ferrets who have tested positive for rabies in Putnam Co in the past decade is zero. Putnam comes up with another goose egg on this state rabies map for 2010 (the same ZERO shows up in the state’s USDA data).
So if the county rabies policy is not motivated by an actual need for heightened response to a rabies threat, what is behind it? I don’t have any way of knowing but I was contacted by Barbara Koblinsky regarding the matter. Ms. Koblinsky is a former Registered Sanitarian at the Putnam Co Health Department who spoke out against the rabies policy and tried to counsel owners that they were within their rights to quarantine their pets at home and not surrender them to the county. She was wrongfully terminated by the county, and recently ordered by a judge to be reinstated with back pay and benefits.
Ms. Koblinsky provided me with copies of six Putnam Co “Euthanasia Request” forms for pets who had bitten people. They are dated between 8-14-09 and 5-6-10 and name 4 cats and 2 dogs. Four of the pets appear to have owners and there is no mention whatsoever of any quarantine period – home or otherwise. One of the forms describes a 3 month old kitten. It appears as if all 6 of these pets were seized by the county and immediately killed under the county’s rabies policy.
In addition, Ms. Koblinsky provided me with copies of seven “Quarantine Forms” (so we know the county does have them, at least). A cat listed on the 2-25-10 form was killed at the shelter and his story made the local news earlier this year:
Terry Humphrey had to take his cat, Kitty Tom, to the shelter after the indoor cat got outside and then bit him. Humphrey’s finger swelled up and he went to the doctor to get it checked out. That’s when the Health Department caught wind of the incident and insisted the cat be quarantined.
While at the shelter, Kitty Tom was mixed up with a group of Ferrel [sic] cats and was later euthanized.
The shelter blamed a volunteer for the oops killing but obviously if the owner had been allowed to quarantine his own cat who had bitten him at home (as allowed by state law), this never would have happened.
Just a few weeks ago, the rabies policy was again in the local news after an owner spoke out at a county meeting over the county’s killing of his dog:
[Dog owner Dale] Stone said his 2-year-old border collie was taken to the shelter after it “nipped” a deputy assessor.
As Stone recalled his conversation with the animal control officer, he said he agreed to pay $10 a day for the quarantine at the shelter and offered documentation of the dog’s rabies vaccination.
But the papers he signed — which were explained “word for word,” [Chief Humane Officer John] Davis said — surrendered ownership of the dog to the shelter.
The shelter does not offer dogs that have bitten humans for adoption, he said.
Well, either it wasn’t explained “word for word” that the county would be immediately killing the dog – which is what happened – or somebody is lying. I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation.
The remaining quarantine forms provided by Ms. Koblinsky all have handwritten notes on the side that say “Owner surrendered” with the same date as the quarantine request. From the above quote about the shelter not offering bite case pets for adoption and based upon what happened to Mr. Stone’s dog, I assume all these pets were immediately killed as well.
The county is vowing to fight the reinstatement of Ms. Koblinsky to the health department. She is vowing to continue speaking out against the county’s rabies policy which has caused the needless deaths of both owned and currently-between-homes pets.
Thank you to both Babrbara Koblinsky and Jo Staats for providing me with information about this story.