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Ed Jorden

A local veterinarian contacted me and was pretty upset about many clients being very nonchalant about getting their pets vaccinated against rabies.

“Don't they know that rabies is something to be scared about?”

He is really very right. Rabies is the scariest of all diseases, and here is why.

Rabies is a virus that affects almost all mammals. Montana has it in abundance as is evidenced by the fact that Yellowstone County and other counties around us are in and out of quarantine all the time because some animal was diagnosed with rabies.

The scare is this: If you or your pet gets rabies and it is not treated before symptoms begin, YOU DIE! That's right, you die. The last two people I have heard about in Montana who died of rabies did so because they didn't know they had been bitten by a rabid bat.

One probably was bitten when he took naps in an outside hammock. The other didn't know when he got the bite. Bats, skunks, foxes and raccoons are the main carriers of rabies.

Last spring, I saw a record number of suspicious skunks in my travels from my home in the country into Billings. Skunks are night-time animals, and there were lots of skunks wandering around during the day. One, near my home, was going in random circles in the middle of the day — a sure sign of rabies.

So, with bats flying around everywhere and skunks being aggressive when they are sick with rabies, your pets need to be protected. Recently, a skunk sought out a family pet and then bit him on the nose. When they are rabid, they lose all their fear of animals and man.

Vaccination is the answer and the only answer. The rabies vaccine is probably the most successful vaccination ever made. It works, and it consistently works.

Here is what happens if your pet is not vaccinated or is not current on his vaccination.

Maybe a neighborhood child is playing with your child and a little yelling match breaks out over a toy. Your dog gets a little confused and bites the neighbor and leaves a little mark on the skin. If your dog is not current on his rabies vaccination, the neighbor has the right to bring in the city animal authorities. They probably will require a 180-day quarantine of your dog, usually in your own yard. They also require that you will need a monthly exam of the dog to assure that he is still healthy.

Of course, you have to pay for these exams every month. If your dog is at all suspicious of being sick, then the animal must be euthanized and his brain tissue sent in to be examined for rabies.

Remember now, if the vaccination had been current, you apologize to the neighbor, clean the child's wound with soap and water, and all is well.

Let's see — pay a little for the vaccination given on time or pay a lot, not to mention all the grief and worry.

You can't assume an animal is rabies-free unless it is vaccinated. A client of mine found a kitten and played with it, and it bit her on the chin. She turned it over to the animal shelter, and it was euthanized and buried. Later, this lady started thinking about rabies and made the animal shelter dig up the body and test it for rabies. No one ever would have really thought the kitten had rabies, but the test showed it did.

The woman was aggressively treated for rabies and survived. She would have been dead if she had waited any longer.

Don't mess with rabies. We will have it with us forever. A simple vaccination takes all the worries away and protects you as well as your pet.

Have questions about pets? Write to: PetVet; c/o The Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, Mont. 59107-6300. Questions of general interest may become topics of future columns.