BY BRUCE BRANUM
The Greenville Standard
It’s that time of year when rabies becomes more prevalent among wild animals and can be transferred to domestic pets.
County animal shelters exist under the state rabies laws as a public health service so that there is a place for stray and unwanted pets to go to. The counties and cities provide for the animal control officers who are then able to bring any stray animals they pick up in for the required seven-day hold to allow owners a chance to retrieve their lost pet(s).
Animals brought in are provided a safe and humane shelter and the employees then work to find responsible homes for as many animals as they can.
One part of Alabama law that causes some confusion regards pets that have bitten a person. A shelter cannot take in a dog, cat or ferret that has bitten (or exposed) a person in the preceding ten days. Shelters are not a qualified quarantine facility under Alabama law.
AL Code Section 3-7A requires that a dog, cat or ferret that has bitten a person be either quarantined under the direct supervision of a licensed Alabama veterinarian or the animal must be humanely euthanized and sent for rabies testing at one of the state laboratories.
Most local shelters do not have a veterinarian on staff and as such cannot take in animals that have bitten (or exposed – exposure as determined by a public health officer, rabies officer and/or veterinarian) a person.
If a pet that has bitten a person is owned, it is the owner’s responsibility to have the pet quarantined at a licensed veterinarian’s office, or euthanized, and sent for testing at the owner’s expense.
AL Code Section 3-7A-9(d) says: “It shall be a violation of this chapter for the owner of such animal to refuse to comply with the lawful order of the health officer in any particular case. It is unlawful for the owner to sell, give away, transfer to another location or otherwise dispose of any such animal that is known to have bitten or exposed a human being until it is released from quarantine by the rabies officer, duly licensed veterinarian or by the appropriate health officer. Violations of this law are punishable as a Class C Misdemeanor.”
If the animal that has bitten is a stray, then this is when the city/county animal control officers will come into play. Once that bite is reported to the Health Department (often via a doctor or the emergency room) or directly to police/sheriff, the animal control officer will do their best to catch/trap the animal.
Once caught, and identified as the animal that has bitten, the animal will be taken to a licensed veterinarian for testing – in almost all instances those animals will not be quarantined but immediately sent for testing.
Rabies is still a very real and very dangerous disease. It is preventable and why it is so important to keep pets’ rabies vaccinations current. Rabies is a fatal disease if left untreated.
If you (or any person) is bitten, seek immediate medical treatment to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect human life.