Health department officials are urging animal owners to get their animals vaccinated for rabies.
Vicki Clonch, environmental technician with the Pontotoc County Health Department, said a skunk infected with rabies was found in the county in March. A rabies vaccination not only protects the family pet, it also protects the family, she said.
“If you have small children, it doesn’t necessarily take a bite for an exposure to occur,” Clonch said. “If a child has a cut on his or her hand, like an open wound, and say a cat or dog licks it, that’s an exposure.”
Clonch said if an animal licks a child’s mouth, it would be an exposure. She said an animal which has rabies doesn’t always exhibit symptoms such as foaming at the mouth.
“There are two forms, the furious form and the docile form,” Clonch said.
Clonch said with the docile form of rabies, the animal will act sickly and depressed.
“We had an older couple here in Ada that had a dog and it wasn’t vaccinated and they thought it was choking on a chicken bone,” Clonch said. “They were sticking their hands in its mouth (trying to find the obstruction). Well, the dog had rabies.”
The couple, along with their son, had to get rabies shots. Clonch said although the number of shots given for rabies exposure has been reduced, the cost is several thousand dollars and the victim is responsible for the bill.
Clonch said those who feed, and then continue to feed, a stray should have the animal vaccinated because they could be held financially responsible if the animal bites someone.
“If a stray comes up to your house and you start feeding it you’re assuming ownership of it,” Clonch said. “Therefore you need to have it vaccinated. By Oklahoma law, all dogs, cats and ferrets are required to be vaccinated by three months of age.
“When a stray comes to your house and you feed it, it becomes yours,” Clonch said. “So you need to get it vaccinated. I had a dog bite case about a year or two ago where a woman said a stray dog had bit her granddaughter. I asked her how long the dog had been in the area and she said, ‘Oh it’s been around about a year’ and she’d been feeding it for about a year.
“I said, ‘Well ma'am, if you’ve been feeding it for a year, you’ve assumed ownership of the dog so it’s yours.”
Clonch said if a person is exposed to rabies, he or she must get rabies shots before the onset of symptoms. Once a person exhibits symptoms, it’s too late and the person will die.
“When the animal bites someone, they have to put it up at a veterinarian for 10 days at the owner’s expense,” Clonch said. “The only other alternative is to have the animal put to sleep and the head sent in for testing.”
In the last several years, rabies has been found in animals in the surrounding area ranging from skunks to horses, Clonch said.
Special rabies clinics will be provided by many area veterinarians during the month of May and rabies vaccinations will be offered for $8 — half the normal cost. Dates and times of rabies clinics will be published in the Ada Evening News in coming weeks. For more information on the vaccinations, phone Pontotoc County Health Department at 332-2011.