Putnam Co Rabies Policy Causing Needless Pet Deaths in WV

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.

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15 Comments

  1. Rob

     /  November 13, 2010

    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.

    Your a hero Ms. Koblinsky.

    Reply
  2. This isn’t a rare thing…
    It seems to me it’s a silly power struggle where “officials” get off on enforcing needless rules to exert power or “punish” animal owners. It’s the animals that suffer–but dead is dead, so the people who love those animals suffer (needlessly) for much longer.

    Reply
    • That element of abuse is always disturbing. I do think in the case of Putnam Co they are wrong in stating that state law doesn’t allow for bite cases to be quarantined at home. Just because they deny that aspect of WV law shouldn’t give them the right to take people’s pets, kill them, cut off their heads and send them in for immediate rabies testing. This is a county with NO rabies! So what on earth motivates them to keep enforcing this policy?

      Reply
  3. Thanks so much for helping us raise awareness in this matter Biscuit!! You have such a way of putting a story together so it makes SENSE…if only Putnam County officials could make sense of their idea’s and [abuse of] power’s!

    Reply
  4. Are the killed pets beheaded, and the head sent to the state health department laboratory for rabies testing?

    Because if they are, that is WAY more expensive than quarantine. (I don’t think though, that it’s on Putnam County’s tab; many states charge nothing or a nominal fee for testing — this does not reflect the true cost to the public for this service.)

    And if they aren’t, Putnam is not following the letter or the intent of the law that requires post-bite quarantine. Because the whole #@^% POINT of quarantine is to observe the animal for signs of zoonosis, so that if the animal has rabies, the human can get timely treatment and NOT DIE OF @#$!% RABIES.

    That’s why it is illegal to kill an animal that has just bitten a human, unless there is no choice and the head is submitted for testing.

    Cats are the most common rabies vector to humans in the US (not because cat rabies is common, but because humans pet cats — most people don’t cuddle a “real friendly” raccoon). So the “accidentally” killed quarantined cat could have been a case of human rabies fatality, as could any summarily killed animals that are not tested.

    Reply
    • Yes the killed pets are beheaded and the head sent in for rabies testing. Positive results of which, to date, remain ZERO for Putnam Co.

      Reply
  5. Also, crap like this is why people don’t seek necessary medical attention for animal bites.

    Cat bites, in particular, are insanely dangerous and prone to infect. Cellulitis is a common complication, and can set in ridiculously quickly.

    Next time that guy’s kitteh bites his finger, he’s likely to dodge treatment until he’s in real trouble.

    I had a kitten thumb-bite a couple years ago — kitteh too young to vaccinate, too. I got antibiotics immediately gratis a doctor who knows what does and does not require an expensive visit to the ED, and all was well. Never reported because NOT IMPORTANT. I watched kitteh myself.

    This is a no-brainer for the biggest animal-hating public health officer out there. YOU MAKE POLICY BASED ON HOW PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY BEHAVE, NOT THE WAY YOU WISH YOU COULD FORCE THEM TO BEHAVE. If your policy creates more morbidity/mortality or places more people at risk, you have screwed up.

    Reply
    • Exactly. Discouraging people from seeking medical care for fear of having their (or a neighbor/relative/friend’s) pet killed and beheaded is obviously not good practice for a “health department” to engage in.

      Reply
  6. Kim

     /  November 15, 2010

    It’s always been my policy to report any bite or scratch requiring medical attention as coming from “unknown animal”.

    When I was 8, I was playing with a 7 month old dog who, two weeks later, came up positive for rabies after a car accident. When the cops showed up, the owner said something about being careful with the body because he was going to take the dog to the vet – ain’t actin’ right.

    Dogs head went in a bag, and that afternoon I had needles in my upper thigh and shoulder. Nine more in the shoulder after that. Did I mention the damn dog had distemper?

    Personally I think a lot of the protocol should be based on the animal’s vax hx. An animal with even a singly Rabies vx in its past has an incredibly tiny chance of contracting the disease, even with direct contact – after two rabies vx that chance goes down to almost nothing.

    Friends of mine who rescue rottweilers came out back one day to find their two young rotts (one Rabies Vx. a piece, at least on record) sharing a freshly killed skunk.

    They did the responsible thing, asked the dogs to go to the next yard for their bath and left the carcass for Animal Control to pick up. They were SO RUDE when they called back to tell them the skunk was rabid – as if they planned it! They basically offered them something crazy like $80/dog/day/14 days or they could perform quarantine at home. But I MEAN quarantine. Their neighbours had to pick up all their groceries and drop them off at the end of the driveway – they were only allowed to pick them up when the coast was clear.

    Luckily, my friends are mostly retired and work from home anyways, but to be away from all human contact for 14 days because you followed the law?

    What REALLY needs to happen is the companies need to get off their ass and create a SNAP-type test for this disease. One that can be done without killing the animal involved.

    Let me assure you, if rabies was a big issue in people, we wouldn’t be running around cutting of their heads to check.

    Last point – we have one recommendation to people here in our city. I don’t care if animal control is at your front door pressuring you, or if they’ve got you up town in one of their little rooms – you sign NOTHING. If something sounds like a good deal, call a rescue group first. Fax us a copy of the contract. When AC won’t let you, ask yourself why?

    Reply
  7. Anne

     /  November 16, 2010

    yeah rabies is always such a tricky subject. it’s so rare, but when it crops up it’s nasty and no one wants to be on the receiving end of it.

    We had 3 Vet Techs get exposed to rabies back in August. Stray kitten came in- the family had found it in a ditch and kept it over night but brought it in when they realized it was sick- lots of spinning and inbalance. They thought it had been hit by a car since it was lying in the ditch.

    We started the stray hold on a the kitten with a monitor on the neuro problems (the vet agreed it was probably hit by a car). When it’s health deteriorated to the point where it’s tongue was swollen so it couldn’t drink and could barely breath, the vet opted to euthanize during stray hold to spare it’s suffering (which is ok by state law- as long as it’s signed off by a DVM). But during the euthanasia the kitten bit a vet tech- no big deal, happens some time. So they sent the body to the DLab just in case, which then came back rabies positive. First time in EVER we’ve had a human exposure case from a non-wild animal. The Department of Health was all over it. All 3 vet techs (the bite victim and 2 that had been exposed to bodily fluids) had to get vaccinated (well 2 just needed boosters as they had previously received the vaccination)

    As for Kim’s suggestion about a SNAP test- that would be awesome in theory, but i’m not sure it’ll ever happen, since as far as i understand you can’t detect rabies in the blood- only in the brain tissue

    Reply
    • Kim

       /  November 17, 2010

      I’m not sure it will ever happen either, but only because we can’t CURRENTLY detect rabies anywhere but brain tissue. And yet rabies is transferred through blood – so there must be something present there to be transferred. We just aren’t looking for the right thing.

      And of course, if rabies testing wasn’t so SCARY (we think your dog *may* have rabies, but we won’t know until we take his head off) imagine how many fewer vaccines would be sold and how many rabies labs would lose business.

      Remember when the other SNAP tests came out? It used to be that every viral disease test had to be sent out. When SNAP tests came on the market, it was a long time before they were universally accepted. It was claimed that they were horribly unreliable. Enough vets tried them and double checked them – and were satisfied enough to grow to rely on them as their first choice.

      I recently read a transcript of a feline vet giving a speech at a veterinary conference and part of her recommendations were that indoor only cats should have kitten vaccines, rabies every three years, and FIV/FVRCP at the age of seven. That’s IT.

      Reduced vaccines were recommended in the 60’s! Still now there are vets that stick to a stick-em-all with everything-every year mantra, despite FIFTY YEARS of evidence to contrary, including recommendations from the AVMA.

      Snap tests won’t allow vets to test for everything under the sun before sending the head out for testing if everything fails. Reduced vaccination schedules can reduce an animal’s lifetime vaccination bill by 4/5.

      Sorry to hear about the little kitten. Having dealt with several cats with cerebellar issues, I can certainly see why no one would even suggest rabies as a possibility. My sympathies, too, for those who had to subject themselves to the vaccines. I’ve been there, and it’s not fun… not fun at all.

      Keep up the great work, Anne! :O)

      By the way, I’m not bashing all vets, most vets, or even a tiny majority of vets. In my area, it happens that the majority of vets are not particularly caring (unless the patient has a dollar amount attached to it). But the vets that I do choose to use are loving, caring, intelligent, inventive and best of all – totally open to both ideas and criticism. Sorry, just didn’t want to get crammed in that box – or to cram ALL vets into any box.

      Reply
  8. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Rabies-Information/message/4938

    If you read the second half of message
    # 4938 above I have some ideas that
    Barbara K has not thought of yet and
    I am trying to get her contact info

    WV is one of the states that will not
    tell us how many pets are being
    euthanized each year to tell us they
    don’t have rabies and that needs
    to change.

    Bill Zardus
    Salem county, NJ
    devilsadvacat@gmail.com

    Reply
  9. No cases of rabies in ten years for cats or dogs but off with every pets head for all nips and other unjustified additional county expenses just because….. Well I don’t know the answer but no one wants to kill shelter pets right? (Sorry Shirley couldn’t resist)

    Reply
  10. ezbuddy

     /  October 31, 2012

    Once again, “shelters” and the folks that operate them seem to find any excuse to kill. Are they all mentally screwed up?

    Reply
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