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Rabies elicits proactive response

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

In response to a second rabid animal being found close to Bandera City Park and last week's article in the Bandera County Courier, Mayor Don Clark has released a public awareness statement about the incidents and the steps the city is taking to ensure public safety.
"City officials are concerned that rabies could spread among the animals within the city limits. Citizens are encouraged to have their pets vaccinated for rabies and register them with the city," Clark wrote.
Additionally, Clark noted, when both the skunk and raccoon were found, they showed signs of being friendly. "Citizens are urged to use caution when approached by animals they are not familiar with. City officials are concerned about the potential danger rabies could pose for the children of our city."
Wildlife that appears unnaturally friendly also concerns City Administrator Lamar Schulz. "During summer, City Park will be filled with locals and visitors. Unfortunately, not all people keep a watchful eye on their children," he said during an interview on Thursday, May 1. "If children see a cute raccoon or skunk approaching them, they will be unaware of the danger. We're working to let everyone know about the danger of wild animals that are acting abnormally."
"Signs will be posted at Bandera City Park to warn citizens and visitors about the potential danger of interacting with stray animals," Clark's statement continued. Stray animals include wildlife and companion animals such as dogs and cats.
Colonies of feral cats continue to proliferate within the city. According to Jennifer Knight, DVM, wild animals such as raccoons and skunks often feed with the colonies at night. This increases the cats' chances of becoming infected with the rabies virus. Therefore, cat colonies are increasingly at risk for the disease.
"Bandera is a no-kill city. Thus, city staff will be trapping animals inside the city. The animals will be taken to Bandera Veterinary Clinic where they will be inspected for rabies," Clark continued. "When determined to be rabies free, the animals will be vaccinated, neutered and released."
The trap-neuter-release (TNR) program applies only with feral cats, according to Bandera County Rabies Control Officer Conrad Nightingale, DVM. The cats are routinely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies and released back into the community after their ears have been notched.
"When wildlife is caught in traps, they can be relocated to more rural areas," Nightingale said in an interview on Tuesday, May 6. "However, with two confirmed cases of rabies in one area, I would not recommend doing that."
Jennifer Knight, DVM at the Bandera Veterinary Clinic, concurred with Nightingale's assessment. "Feral cats will become part of the TNR program, but rabies vaccine has been approved for wildlife," she said. "Wildlife will be dealt with according to their behavior."
Additionally, to treat wild animals, a veterinarian must possess a wildlife rehabilitation license. "When we have an injured wild animal, we transport it to Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue in Kendalia," Knight said.
According to Clark, law enforcement officers with the city marshal's department will cite citizens who tamper with city traps or release animals from the traps. "People get bitten most often when they attempt to release wild animals from traps," Nightingale said.
An animal can only transmit rabies during symptomatic phase of the disease when the virus is being actively shed. Although it can take a long time for rabies symptoms to manifest after initial exposure, animals usually die within nine days of onset of symptoms.
According to Nightingale, a raccoon can harbor the virus up to two years before becoming symptomatic while a skunk will usually exhibit symptoms and die within days of exposure to the rabies virus.
When a bite occurs, state law mandates that the animal involved undergoes a 10-day quarantine at a veterinary clinic to determine if it were rabid. Additionally, the only way to test for rabies is to sever the animal's head and have the brain examined.
Clark asked anyone who encounters a suspicious animal to call emergency dispatch at 830-796-3771. "With the cooperation of the citizens, we can reduce the risk of rabies in our community," he concluded.