Wednesday, May 19, 2010

California Rabies Bill Seeks Lifetime Quarantine for Sick Dogs

An amendment currently being considered by the California Legislature would force dog owners whose dogs are too sick to be vaccinated to either quarantine those dogs or vaccinate them, despite their illnesses.  This would include dogs whose illnesses have been caused or aggravated by the rabies vaccine itself.  For those dogs, and many others with chronic diseases, the amendment would effectively create either a requirement of lifetime quarantine or force the dog to receive a life-threatening vaccination.

Vaccine-induced illness, or vaccinosis, comes in a variety of forms and is usually autoimmune in nature.  Typically, dogs that develop vaccinosis never fully recover, and it is usually recommended that they not be vaccinated again.  They often receive a medical exemption in the form of a letter from a veterinarian advising against future vaccination.  A medical exemption letter can be given for many reasons, if a veterinarian determines that a dog is too sick to tolerate further vaccination.  In fact, the labeling instructions on vaccine products instruct veterinarians to vaccinate healthy dogs only.

In California, several changes to the rabies vaccination laws are currently under review, including this language:

“A dog exempt from the canine antirabies vaccination shall be kept quarantined as directed by the local health officer, until the dog's medical condition has resolved and the administration of the canine antirabies vaccine occurs.”

For those dogs that are exempt due to vaccinosis or other chronic conditions, this proposed amendment means owners must choose either lifetime quarantine or vaccinating unhealthy dogs against both veterinary and labeling advice.   For some of these dogs, vaccination would be deadly.

What is the actual likelihood of rabies in California dogs?  According to data published by the California Department of Health Services, Veterinary Public Health Section, bats and skunks are far more likely to carry rabies than dogs.  During the past four years, only one rabid dog has been reported in the entire state of California.  Of the six human cases reported during the period from 1997 to 2006, four are known to have contracted rabies outside of the United States. (

Dr. Bonnie Sorensen, Chief Deputy of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), wrote in 2008: "Bats and skunks are the most common animals found to be rabid in California.  Rabies is rare in dogs, cats, and other domestic animals in California due to vaccination programs and animal control efforts."  (

In other words, the vaccination program that currently exists in California is already working.

According to Jean Dodds, world-renowned California veterinarian and Co-Trustee of the Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust*: “I am definitely alarmed about the negative impact this proposed legislation would have on the health and longevity of dogs legitimately deserving of rabies booster exemptions. The mandate of permanent quarantine as the alternative to forcing these dogs to receive rabies boosters would cause untold pain, suffering and hardship not only for the pet but also the pet owner.

“This proposed legislation is a significant setback to current advancements in standardizing rabies laws nationwide and providing uniform requirements for issuing exemptions, where appropriate, on a case-by-case basis.  It would be ironic indeed, if the State of California, believed to be progressive, was to take a big step backwards and enact unwise and unjustified legislation!”

Laura Bates Sterner of Sacramento, the owner of Louie, a Chinese Crested with a long history of health problems related to the rabies vaccine, is worried that people will not understand what this law would mean for dogs like hers with chronic illness.  “Another part of the same amendment defines and clarifies what qualifies as a medical exemption under the law, and that is a good thing,” she says,  “but pet owners who fail to look more closely at the rest of the proposed legislation may not realize that it also contains this additional language that will force quarantines.  Until now, dogs with medical exemptions have been allowed to simply live out their days.  If the new language passes in its entirety, those animals deemed exempt under the law will have a far different future.”

Sterner, along with Cynthia Jeremica of Sacramento, is hoping to make other dog owners aware of the proposed change to bill AB2000.   They support an alternative proposal written and endorsed by the co-trustees of the Rabies Challenge Fund which would eliminate the quarantine requirement, and make other important changes.  For more information about what you need to do in order to speak out against this amendment (amendment 2 to bill AB2000), please visit .

*The Rabies Challenge Fund is in the third year of concurrent 5- and 7-year research trials to determine the long-term duration of immunity of the canine rabies vaccine with the goal of extending state mandated rabies boosters to 5, and then 7 years.  The purpose would be to extend the interval required for rabies booster vaccination after the initial 2-dose series beyond the 3-year interval now followed. See for additional information.

(Above Photos L-R:  Louie, before and after onset of his rabies vaccine-induced illness)

Additional background/resources: (background on the Rabies Challenge Fund) (Breaking information about the pending amendment to AB2000) (Story of “Louie’s” struggle with vaccinosis) (Story of “Peaches” struggle with vaccinosis) a dog with a vaccine induced fibrosarcoma at the injection site.

High-resolution images of vaccinosis: (Erosion of skin and open lesions on Louie’s ear, more than a year after his injection - image also attached) (Crusting and hyperpigmentation at Louie’s injection site, more than a year after his injection) (Peaches’ ischemic dermatopathy due to rabies vaccine) (Another image of Peaches showing the damage at the injection site – Image also attached) (Louie before his illness) (Louie with his illness)

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