Poughkeepsie… As outdoor activity increases with the warm weather, the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community (DBCH) reminds residents to be cautious and avoid interaction with wildlife, as many animals carry rabies. DBCH also encourages pet owners to take advantage of the upcoming FREE rabies vaccination clinic to be held Saturday, June 26th at the Dutchess County SPCA, 636 Violet Avenue, Hyde Park, NY from 8 am to noon with convenient on-site parking. Appointments are limited and online pre-registration is required.
Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of mammals, and is most often seen in bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. The virus is spread through the saliva and nervous tissue of rabid animals. People and animals are usually exposed to rabies through a bite from an infected animal. Exposure can occur if the saliva or nervous tissue of a rabid animal enters an open wound or mucous membrane (such as the eyes, nose, or mouth). If left untreated, rabies is fatal in animals and humans.
Bats, in particular, are concern when they make their way into homes. While bats are gentle and not aggressive, a small percentage of bats may be infected with rabies. Due to their small size, bats can easily squeeze into very small gaps (1/2 inch), such as in between the upper and lower window sashes, roof eaves, attic fans and vent openings. When a bat is found inside a building, it must be determined if there has been a potential exposure to pets or people. Since the small teeth of a bat can make a bat bite difficult to detect, the presence of a bat in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, or an intoxicated or mentally compromised person is considered a possible exposure to rabies.
Risk of exposure can be greatly reduced, and rabies can be prevented following these guidelines:
1) Avoid contact with wild animals such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, woodchucks/groundhogs, and bats.
2) Do not approach or handle domestic animals that you do not know, including stray dogs and cats.
3) Do not attempt to handle or capture sick or orphaned wildlife.
4) Keep home and yard free of food and other debris that may attract wild animals.
5) Secure and seal all window unit air conditioners to ensure no gaps exist on the sides and bottom of the unit for bats to crawl through. Seal the space between the upper and lower window sashes with foam, fabric, or other suitable material.
6) Be sure all windows and doors have secure and intact screens to keep bats from entering.
7) Make sure chimney dampers are closed when not in use. Seal all unused openings from the house into the chimney so bats cannot enter.
8) Keep access points to attics, garages, and basements closed and secure.
9) Keep garage door closed when possible.
Residents who see an animal acting strangely, and no humans or pets have come in contact with it, are advised to contact their local police agency. If a person has been bitten, or a domestic pet or livestock is bitten or is in contact with any animal acting wildly, contact DBCH immediately at 845-486-3404 Monday through Friday 9AM-5PM, or 845-431-6465 on nights and weekends. DBCH has seen a slight increase in bite reports in 2021, compared to 2020.
Vaccinating dogs, cats, domestic ferrets, horses and other livestock and keeping their immunizations up to date is also critical to preventing rabies. The June 26th rabies vaccination clinic, in partnership with Dutchess County SPCA, offers Dutchess County residents the opportunity to obtain rabies shots free of charge for their dogs, cats, and domestic ferrets 3 months of age and older. Proof of residency is required. Non-residents will be charged $10 for each pet vaccinated. Register today online.
All dogs must be on leash, and cats and domestic ferrets must be in carriers. Vaccinations will be good for three years for pets with proper proof of a prior immunization. For those without proof, the vaccination will be good for one year.
In New York State, rabies shots are required for all cats, dogs, and domestic ferrets by the age of four months. Revaccination is then required on a regular schedule to keep the animal properly immunized against the rabies virus. Owners can be fined up to $200 if they fail to get their pets vaccinated and keep them up-to-date.
DBCH Commissioner A. K. Vaidian, MD, MPH reminds pet owners of the importance of vaccinating all dogs, cats, and ferrets, even if they are considered “house pets” and remain indoors. “We are pleased to again partner with the Dutchess County SPCA to provide this free clinic to help residents make sure they are taking steps to protect their families and their pets against rabies,” Dr. Vaidian said.
If a pet is not up-to-date on its rabies vaccination and fights with a rabid or suspect-rabid animal, the pet must be promptly destroyed or placed in quarantine for six months to protect other animals and people in case the pet develops rabies. These mandates are not required for a vaccinated pet in the same situation. In such cases, only a booster dose of rabies vaccine would be given within five days to treat the pet.
DBCH offers three free rabies clinics per year for dogs, cats, and ferrets owned by Dutchess County residents. To be notified of upcoming clinics, register at https://www.dutchessny.gov/Dutchess-Delivery.htm, and select County News – Department of Behavioral & Community Health News Releases.
To learn of more ways to protect against rabies and how to handle a possible exposure to rabies, visit: DutchessNY.gov/Rabies.