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Rabies Vaccine Now Mandated For Pets In State

Deborah Wang

Owners of dogs, cats and ferrets in Washington state are now required to have their animals vaccinated against rabies. That's a new state public health rule that went into effect on the first of this year. But as KUOW's Deborah Wang reports, the new law has no teeth.


Rabies is extremely rare in Washington state. Over the past 20 years, only two people and a handful of domestic animals have been diagnosed with the disease. Nonetheless, public health officials say they take the threat of rabies very seriously.

Wohrle: "It is the most uniformly fatal disease known to mankind and once symptoms develop it's virtually almost always fatal."

Dr. Ron Wohrle is the state's public health veterinarian. He says rabies exists across the country in wild populations of animals: skunks in some places, raccoons in others. Here in the Northwest, bats are the primary carriers.

Wohrle: "We have had bats confirmed to be positive for rabies virtually in every county across our state."

Until recently, Washington was one of only 10 states that did not require pets to be vaccinated against rabies. The new rule set out by the state's Board of Health requires owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to keep their pets current on their rabies vaccines.

The problem with the new rule is that the state has no way of enforcing it. That leaves it up to local governments. Some cities and towns already have the vaccine requirement on the books, some do not.

Seattle has required rabies vaccines for more than a decade. You used to have to show proof of vaccination before you could get a license your pet. But officials dropped that requirement because they felt it discouraged people from applying for a pet license.

Don Jordan is the director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. He says the only time they check on an animal's vaccination status is if it's reported for being aggressive or if it bites someone.

Jordan: "Then we would be following up with the pet owner to make certain that their animal is vaccinated. But the bottom line is it falls upon the owners of the dog or the cat to make certain that they are following the law and doing the right thing."

And if the city finds you in violation of the law, you will be fined $109.

Public health officials say the best way to stay safe from rabies is to make sure your pets are vaccinated and to stay away from wild animals, particularly bats.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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