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Authorities suggest public leave rabid animals to them

Testing required only if human or domestic animal exposed

POSTED: March 19, 2013 12:41 a.m.

George Pittman was mowing his lawn Tuesday morning when he noticed something strange; a raccoon had stumbled across his driveway in broad daylight and was walking in his direction.

“First thing, you’re not going to see a raccoon in the daytime,” Pittman said. “When a raccoon comes up across your yard and you’re there, running a lawn mower and it’s (following) along, wobbling and not scared of you, you know something is wrong.”

Pittman said he’d seen the wild look in an animal’s eyes once before when he was a child and his dog “went mad.”

Knowing how dangerous a bite from a rabid animal is, Pittman stayed on his lawn mower and watched the animal for what seemed a long time.

“It just wobbled around out there and looked real bad,” Pittman said. “It wasn’t even scared of that lawn mower and everything. It just stopped and turned around and looked at me and finally, after about two or three minutes it just sort of settled down.”

He decided that was his chance. He made a run for his gun inside his house some 150 yards away. Pittman lives on a farm off Coker Road in East Hall County.

Pittman’s wife called Hall County Animal Control while he went back outside and shot the raccoon.

Pittman said he was surprised and upset to learn that the animal wouldn’t be sent in for rabies testing.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Health Rabies Control Manual, “for a specimen to be accepted for testing, there must have been exposure of a human or domestic animal to the suspected rabid animal.”

Pittman’s raccoon hadn’t attacked anything that he knew of, so he took the animal’s body to the Hall County Landfill to be buried.

Hall County Animal Services Director Mike Ledford said it’s up to the individual to decide how to dispose of an animal but recommends letting a trained animal control officer catch any animal that is acting abnormally.

“If they have disposed of an animal on their own, that’s their decision not ours,” Ledford said. “If they’ve done that and it has had contact with their dog or cat or whatever, we do need to know and we do need the body. If it has not had any known contact, the (Centers for Disease Control) does not recommend that we ship it.”

Ledford said animal services will take a dead rabid animal and dispose of it if the person who killed it is unable to do so. Otherwise, he said, there is no harm in burying the animal in a garbage bag because the virus dies shortly after the animal.

“Within 10 to 20 minutes the rabies virus is gone, according to the research we have,” Ledford said. “Obviously don’t handle any wild animal that is still alive. If they are going to (handle a dead animal) use a shovel. If you’re going to pick it up, I’d rather you not, but if you’re going to, gloves would do you good.”

Ledford said for many years, officers would hang signs around an area that may have an infected animal, but the practice caused more confusion than it prevented.

Now the officers hang signs in a 2½-mile radius and notify media outlets if an animal has been confirmed to have the virus. He said rabid animals generally only circle around a small area because they are sick.

A rabies alert was issued for the Lawson Road area of North Hall on Thursday after a rabid skunk came in contact with a dog. It was the second confirmed case of 2013.

In Georgia, the most common carriers of the disease are bats, raccoons and foxes.
Ledford stressed that the most effective way to prevent domestic animals from contracting the disease is to have them vaccinated. The Hall County Animal Shelter, the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia and area veterinarians all offer the shots throughout the year at a low cost.

“It’s a very inexpensive, easy vaccination that you give your pet,” said Rick Aiken, executive director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia. “It’s not only for your pet’s sake but also your personal sake, the sake of the community.”

According to the control manual, vaccinating domestic animals is the best way to prevent a person from contracting the disease.

Aiken said it’s important for people to realize that rabies is considered a 100 percent fatal disease. He encourages parents to teach children about the dangers of touching a wild or strange animal.

Ledford said the number of rabies cases has tapered off in the last few years but the virus is found more often in the warmer months because more animals are out and about.

Generally, animals are more active during the night, so people are more apt to notice an animal that is behaving strangely in the day.

Ledford said an officer is on-call 24 hours a day and can be anywhere in the county within 45 minutes. He suggests that if residents suspect an animal of having rabies they keep it in sight at a safe distance.

“What we try to pass along to everybody is if you see one that is acting abnormally, staggering around, slobbering, trying to approach people or animals, being somewhere they wouldn’t normally be,” Leford said, “if at all possible we’d rather they stay away from it and contact our office to let us deal with it.”


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