GREENFIELD, N.J. — Max, a 12-year-old Chihuahua, was euthanized after he was bitten by a rabid raccoon. The attack took place in the yard of the family’s Route 50 home in the early evening hours of Thur., March 22 as the dog’s owner, Marion Heilman, watched in horror.
According to Dr. Nick Holland, of Shore Veterinarians in Seaville, the raccoon was taken by Shore Animal Control after a call reported the animal had attacked the family’s pet.
“We got a call about an animal’s behavior,” Holland told the Herald. According to the vet, a hallmark of rabies infection is an animal exhib-iting abnormal behavior.
The raccoon was euthanized and decapitated so that tissue samples from its brain could be sent to the state Department of Health and Senior Services for examination. Tissue samples tested positive for the rabies virus.
Once exposed to a rabid animal a six-month quarantine is required for the exposed animal, even those animals that have been inoculated with a rabies vaccine.
“The Health Department contacted the owners,” said Holland, “and the owners were presented with a six-month quarantine option and they felt that the dog was old and still injured.” According to Holland, most of Max’s injuries were to his face.
“Because of the way it was exposed and because of the positive, I think there was a really good chance this dog was going to get rabies,” he added.
Holland said due to the nature of rabies, until behavioral changes occur, the animal is not infectious. “In other words,” said the vet, “They can’t bite someone and give it rabies until the virus is in the brain tissue and coming down into the saliva. From the period of the bite until it shows signs can be six months for it to travel up the nerves and into the brain. So the quarantine period is extremely long.”
The vet said if the onset of signs is missed, the dog can still be infectious or contagious and all of its caregivers are exposed.
“It’s a very risky quarantine,” said Holland.
There have been five documented cases of animal rabies in Cape May County since 2005. None, except the March 22 attack, resulted in exposure to another animal.
According to data made available to the Herald by the county Department of Health, throughout the entire state, 94 raccoons were found to be rabid in 2011.
Both Holland and Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo stressed the importance of having pets inoculated.
“People don’t take having that rabies vaccination so seriously,” said Palombo. The mayor said the township offers free rabies vaccinations throughout the year. Several clinics have taken place, with one more scheduled for township residents.
The mayor warned to be sure not to engage with wildlife that acts friendly; especially in the case of children who may be enthralled with a seemingly friendly wild animal.
“If some animal seems overly friendly,” said Palombo, “take a step back.”
Pet owners are also being warned to be sure their outdoor pets are inoculated, as well as pets that are allowed to run freely.
“This is a reminder that rabies are out there,” said Palombo.