What Happened to the Beagles in the 5 Year Group in the Rabies Challenge Fund?

Primer, snipped from the Rabies Challenge Fund website:

The Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust will determine the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. The goal is to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years.
The research began in November 2007 under the direction of Dr. Ronald Schultz and The University of Wisconsin Foundation and is now in year seven.

And the most recent news on the site, dated July 2014:

The Rabies Challenge Fund has just received the commitment from a USDA-approved facility to perform the first of the challenge phases of our 5 and 7-year studies. […]

Fees for this first challenge, slated to begin later this year, will involve 15 of the study dogs and will cost $100,000. If successful, two subsequent challenges of 15 dogs each will be conducted in order to meet the USDA rabies vaccine licensing requirements. These results, which will have been obtained using the same federal standard upon which all currently licensed rabies vaccines and rabies laws and regulations are based, should establish the scientific foundation upon which the legally required rabies booster intervals for dogs can be extended to 5 or 7 years.

My question is: What has happened to the dogs in the 5 year group, whose 5 years would seem to have expired in 2012? The study uses approximately 70 beagles, researchers’ breed of choice for vivisection. And the USDA requires that the dogs be killed at the conclusion of the study.

In 2008, the study was targeted by PETA. I have no idea why PETA would take issue with the planned killing of dogs, unless it was that the dogs weren’t being killed fast enough to satiate PETA’s blood lust. At any rate Dr. Jean Dodds, one of the researchers, responded to PETA and her response was widely circulated online. Part of her response addressed the USDA requirement that the dogs be killed and the researchers’ intention to convince the USDA to change that requirement:

Dr. Ron Schultz has undertaken informal dialog with USDA senior officials , in his capacity as advisor to the vaccine industry and regulatory body. He has decades of experience in the field and attends meetings with these folks regularly. At this point, we have not made progress in changing their views, BUT, he and I together are planning to present a more formal proposal to them. We have 4 + years to accomplish what we view as an important need to change the regulations as currently written for endpoint challenge testing — before anything involving challenge of these healthy dogs (vaccinates and controls) with rabies virus has to take place according to the current regulatory protocol.
We have the interim years to dialog with the federal authorities, based upon Dr. Schultz’s expertise, and hope to amend the CFR regulatory requirements for the end phase of their protocol.

Dr. Dodds also explained that dogs will be killed promptly and not allowed to suffer through the entire disease process once infected with rabies:

Even if we’re forced by the USDA to follow the current challenge protocol at the end of the 5 and 7 year studies, there will be no excruciating deaths among the control dogs, because at the very first evidence of malaise and illness they will be sacrificed.

After searching the RCF website and trying to find updates via Google but coming up empty, I sent out a couple of inquiries.

Sent to the Rabies Challenge Fund:

I saw the website announcement last month that a USDA approved facility had been secured in which to expose the dogs to rabies. Have the dogs in the 5 year study been waiting all this time for you to secure a facility? If not, what was their fate?
I remember several years ago the doctors involved in the study were hopeful they’d be able to convince the USDA that titers were acceptable so that no dogs would be killed in order to satisfy USDA requirements at the end of the study. Were those efforts successful? I never heard any updates.

Response: none.

Sent to Maddie’s Fund, a no kill organization which is not funding the RCF but is widely affiliated with Dr. Ron Schultz, lead researcher on the study:

Do you know if Maddie’s has issued a position statement on [the RCF] study, specifically regarding the planned killing of the dogs involved in the research? Or if Maddie’s has been encouraging Dr. Schultz to seek alternatives to killing the dogs in the rabies study?

Response, from Lynne Fridley at Maddie’s Fund:

Maddie’s Fund would encourage all researchers to find alternatives to killing animals for their studies, but we were not aware of this study until you contacted us and thus have not discussed it nor taken a position on it.

Maddie’s Fund never heard of the RCF study. Although they know about it now so perhaps they will take some action. I can’t tell based upon the brief response.

RCF isn’t answering questions apparently.

So I’m throwing this out there: Does anyone know what has happened to the beagles in the 5 year study group? Have the researchers made any progress in convincing the USDA to accept results from the study which do not require the killing of the dogs?

Please note that this is not a forum to discuss the potential benefits of the RCF study or engage in “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” arguments in an attempt to justify killing dogs.  I am asking what has happened to the 5 year group of beagles involved in the RCF study.  I understand that possibly one or more of you might have a dog who will potentially benefit from a change in the law regarding the duration of immunity of rabies vaccines.  Your dog has you to advocate for him, as well you should, just not on this post.  The beagles forced to participate in the RCF study never got to be anyone’s dogs and have no owners advocating for them.

I don’t like secrecy and I like dog killing even less.  If you can’t own it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.  I want to find out the truth.

Two Vaccinated Dogs Killed for Lack of Revax in NC

A woman in NC had 2 dogs who got into a fight with a fox.  The dogs survived, the fox didn’t.  ACOs showed up to check the rabies vaccination dates for the dogs since they assumed the fox was rabid (no remains left to actually test the fox I guess).  Turns out, the rabies vax weren’t current so they kindly offered to seize the dogs and toss them in quarantine for 6 months – at a price tag of $10,000 – or kill them both.  The owner couldn’t afford the generous quarantine offer so animal control killed her dogs.

I don’t know how far out of date the rabies vaccines were but I do honestly believe they last for the life of a dog.  I understand the state has an obligation to protect the public from rabies but it seems a shame there couldn’t have been a reasonable, third option offered in the case of these vaccinated dogs who may or may not have been exposed to rabies.

Rabies Revaccination and the Law: Simply Complex

The CDC’s Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2007 states that dogs, cats and ferrets “should be placed on a vaccination schedule according to the labeled duration of the vaccine used.” Sounds simple right? Whoa Nellie.

In my state of South Carolina, there is a state sponsored effort each year to get pets vaccinated for Rabies by teaming up with Veterinarians to offer $3 shots. (If you are interested in this year’s clinics, set for April, please visit SC DHEC for a list of clinics by county.) Like most other states, and in accordance with the CDC statement above, South Carolina mandates that pets be revaccinated according to the vaccine’s labeling. That is, if your Vet purchases and administers the Rabies vaccine labeled for 3 years, your pet does not require revaccination for 3 years. However if your Vet purchases and administers the Rabies vaccine labeled for 1 year, your pet must be revaccinated annually. States which do not honor the manufacturer’s instructions for revaccination include AL, AR, CO, HI, LA, ME, MA, MS, NM, NC, OK, RI, SD, TN, UT and WV. In other words, if you live in or are traveling to any of those states, you will want to check with a government office regarding their Rabies vaccination requirements as they do not necessarily consider whether your pet was given a vaccine labeled for 1 year or 3 year immunity.

And it gets even more complicated. Vermont statutes for example, dictate “All vaccinations, including the initial vaccination, shall be with a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved three-year rabies vaccine product” – which means if your pet had the 1 year labeled Rabies vaccine, you may not be compliant. Then there’s Kansas, which does not mandate Rabies revaccination schedules but leaves it up to city officials. So traveling from one city to the next in Kansas, you might encounter different laws on the books regarding Rabies vaccination for your pet.

In Ontario, Canada, there is confusion among pet owners and Veterinarians alike as to what constitutes compliance regarding Rabies vaccination. It certainly would not surprise me to find out there are other places where confusion exists. (Note: If you are traveling to Hawaii, Canada or overseas with your pet, you’ll want to research Rabies requirements in advance.)

Finally, I don’t know if it will simplify things (hope springs eternal!) but there is a Rabies Challenge Fund set up to determine if the existing Rabies vaccines actually convey immunity for longer than currently known. They are running two concurrent studies for duration of immunity – one for 5 years and another for 7 years. They are seeking contributions from supporters to fund their research. If they are able to prove the longer duration of immunity, it’s possible that Rabies revaccination protocols may be changed which would mean less vaccines required for pets.

My thoughts: Ask your Vet before having your pet vaccinated whether he is administering the Rabies vaccine labeled for one year or three year immunity. They are not “all the same”, even though many people think they are, because they are labeled differently. (I’m not a virologist so can’t comment on whether the vaccines contained within the differently labeled vials are actually different except to say that would be my assumption.) It will be important information to know in case you decide to take your pet to an area with a different Rabies revaccination law. Also, check with your state’s government offices to find out the Rabies revaccination requirements for your area. Your Vet may not have current, accurate information on the laws.