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Dog Owners Warned To Vaccinate - Rabies Cases Rise

With 25 incidents reported so far this summer, Westchester County is leading the state in rabies cases, according to the Westchester County Department of Health.

“From what I’m hearing, we’ve had more rabies cases recently,” said Joan Dooley, the dog control officer for both Pound Ridge and Lewisboro. “I’m getting a lot of calls for things like bats, raccoons, opossums and skunks.”

Police blotters for the Lewisboro and Pound Ridge police departments have noted numerous encounters with possibly rabid animals this summer, particularly raccoons.

Because she is the dog control officer, Dooley deals strictly with canines. When she gets a call for a possible rabid animal, she refers the caller to the appropriate police department.

“When the police department is called, we will dispatch the animal,” said Lewisboro Police Chief Frank Secret. “However, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to get rid of it.”

State law dictates that the dead animal must be triple bagged (a plastic garbage bag will do) and buried at least three feet down in an area that is not frequently used by people or pets.

The Westchester County Department of Health says it receives about 1,000 reports of animal bites annually and that less than 10 percent of the animals tested are positive for rabies. Last year, Westchester had 39 reported rabies cases. In 2009, there were 36 cases and in 2008 and 2007 there were 31.

The Health Department has issued several rabies alerts throughout the county this summer. In June it issued one for Yorktown for a rabid cat and one in Larchmont for a raccoon. In July, Bedford received an alert for a rabid woodchuck. On Aug. 3, Yonkers received an alert for a raccoon.

The spate of rabies cases throughout the county is all the more reason to get your pet vaccinated, said Dooley.

“With so many rabies cases, it is all the more important they get their pets vaccinated,” she said. “In fact, it’s state law. It’s the first line of defense.”

Dooley said it’s important to note an animal’s behavior as well. It could be a warning as to whether the animal is rabid or not. She said that seeing an animal out in the daytime is not necessary an indicator that it’s rabid.

“That’s a myth,” she said. “One symptom though is if an animal shows no fear. Most raccoons, when they get around humans, will go away. But if they rear up and hiss at you, you don’t want to get too close.”

Another symptom is when the animal is ataxic.

“That’s a veterinarian term,” Dooley explained. “Ataxic is when the animal is stumbling and weaving about like it is drunk. They’ll also foam at the mouth.”

Dooley also advises to keep a close eye on your family dog. Do not leave it unattended.

“Dogs should not be left outside unattended because you wouldn’t know if it got into a confrontation,” she said. “Don’t just tie it up in the backyard and leave it.”

The Westchester County Department of Health has set up a Rabies Hotline: (914) 813-5010.

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