Fight rabies! Spay, neuter and vaccinate.
Jul. 19, 2023
By Mary Wade Burnside
When Monongalia County Health Department announced on July 6 that rabies had been found in a feral cat colony off Green Bag Road, we knew the community would react strongly to the news.
People love their pets and want to keep them and their families safe, especially from a deadly viral disease that can affect all mammals.
So it’s a great time to discuss various steps that can be taken in order to reduce the incidence of rabies in Monongalia County.
There are so many components to reducing rabies, and pet owners have the responsibility to do their part.
The first step is to make sure that your dogs, cats and/or ferrets receive their initial rabies series and then are kept up to date with the inoculations.
In West Virginia, it’s the law. And if you have an unvaccinated or undervaccinated pet that gets into a tussle with a rabid raccoon or other wildlife, the results can be heartbreaking.
And if their humans then interact with those animals, they might be advised to get rabies postexposure prophylaxis at an emergency department. It’s a series of four shots and they can be expensive.
So pet owners who might consider rabies vaccines to be costly or out of reach for them should realize that it’s really not much at all compared to the emotional and financial price of making difficult decisions about your animal and your family members.
Another key element to reducing rabies is to have your animals spayed and neutered. This helps reduce the population of animals living out on the streets without proper medical care.
Without that feral cat colony, this rabies incident would not have happened.
When it comes to spay/neuter surgeries, there is some good news in Morgantown.
Exactly a year ago, Snip WV opened its doors to provide low-cost spay/neuter services and are homing in on nearly 5,000 procedures in that time.
Alyssa Shade had been taking 40 cats at a time down to Charleston for the procedures as part of a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program when she decided to help establish Snip WV in Sabraton. The facility offers spay and neuter services that she estimates to be one-third to one-half the cost of those at regular veterinary practices.
Shade was able to provide context to the impact of unchecked kitten births. “The statistic I usually use is that 85% of the kittens born every year are born to outside cats — ferals and strays.”
In an effort to help pet owners with rabies vaccines, both Snip WV and Monongalia County Health Department will be holding rabies clinics in the near future.
MCHD Environmental Health also notes that individuals walking with their dogs outside should observe the city’s leash law and also avoid wildlife.
MCHD advises avoiding all strange animals, including feral cat colonies. However, if anyone takes an animal from an unknown situation, Shade advises them to always proceed with caution.
“They should be in two-week quarantine from other animals,” she added. “And not just because of rabies. They could have worms or parasites that can be asymptomatic for that long.”
If an animal does appear sick and/or to have neurological symptoms, rabies is a definite possibility. Those animals should be avoided.
Monongalia County Health Department’s Rabies Control web page has a list of actions to take if your pet has an encounter with a wild animal.
Also remember to keep trash cans tightly closed and examine your home for any openings that would allow wildlife in. And while it might be tempting, don’t leave food outside for strays, which also could attract raccoons.
Rabies is no fun but taking proper care of your pets and following other precautions can really help not just you but the entire community in the fight against this deadly illness.
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.