2011-05-04 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Luckily most of our encounters with “mad dogs” and rabies come from books and movies- snarling Cujo, Old Yeller breaking from the shed, and Atticus Finch (aka Gregory Peck) shooting a rabid dog in To Kill A Mockingbird, a scene that many consider symbolic of rampant racism because Atticus was the only one brave enough to try to stop bigotry in that fictional Alabama town.

Actually, rabies is one of the earliest known diseases. Over 4,000 years ago Babylonians (not the ones near Deer Park Avenue) were fined when their dogs bit someone who subsequently died. Homer and Aristotle made reference to such an illness; while the Greeks worshipped two deities related to rabies, Arisaeus, son of Apollo, to prevent it and Artemis, to cure it. [Stay with me. Your pay off and final exam come later.]

Rabies is virtually 100% fatal if not treated with a vaccine. In the U.S. where there are only about ten human rabies deaths each year, still about 40,000 Americans are treated with post exposure shots as a precaution. Worldwide, at least four million potentially exposed people are vaccinated for rabies annually because approximately 55,000 people die from the virus each year.


Alec, left and Jacque, right Alec, left and Jacque, right On a more cheery note, in February 2011, Cornell proclaimed that rabies in raccoons was officially eliminated in Nassau and Suffolk County because the last documented case occurred two years ago.

Although Cornell’s oral bait program to vaccinate raccoons in the wild was successful, NYS still requires every dog, cat, and domesticated ferret be vaccinated against rabies. [That statement is a clue to your pay off for staying with me.]

At one time, rabies was the scourge of society. We can thank Louis Pasteur (and Emile Roux) for developing a vaccine. The scientists didn’t know which “germ” caused the disease but did realize rabies affected the brain via the spinal cord. They formed their vaccine from the spinal cord matter of an infected rabbit. In 1885, Pasteur was hailed as a hero after first using it successfully on a nine-year-old boy who had been mauled by a dog. The boy lived to age 54, but word of treatment was slow to circulate around the globe.

The 19th century newspapers are filled with accounts of rabid dogs. Reports take on an editorial tone, maligning canine victims of the disease as “brutes” as if they could have some control over their erratic behavior. Here are three news briefs pulled from The South Side Signal. (Yes, these Babylonians did live near Deer Park Avenue.):

First Brief, 8-13-1887: “MAD DOG - On Saturday morning last, a strange black dog made his appearance on lower Cooper Street. The animal ran into the yards growling and snapping at dogs, chickens and other animals. Several of the former are reported to have been bitten by the presumably rabid animal, which ran up Main Street and when near the Sherman House attacked John Tweedy, who, after hitting him several severe blows with one of his crutches, drove the animal away. Near the Horton House the rabid brute was met by George Seaman, who fired three shots from a revolver at him, but without effect. The dog was chased through Effingham Park [Today: the southern end of Rt. 231] and thence west a considerable distance, but as far as we can learn not killed. We advise the dog owners to watch their canines carefully and to kill them upon the first sign of rabies becoming apparent. It is to be regretted that the laws of the Board of Health of each town in regard to the muzzling of dogs during the summer months are not more rigidly enforced.” Too bad there was already a vaccine in existence, but our Babylonians hadn’t heard of it.

Second Brief, 8-20-1887: “A large brindle bull dog, suffering from hydrophobia, ran amuck through West Islip on Monday. A valuable setter dog owned by Charles Knapp was attacked and killed by the rabid brute, which was shot a few minutes later by Samuel Harvey, colored. We have not heard that any person was bitten by the mad dog, nor could we learn that he attacked any other animal except Mr. Knapp’s setter.” Note the irrelevant racial reference, a common journalistic practice of that era.

Third Brief, 8-13-1870 (Go back to 1870 and The Signal commentary becomes more biting): “Mad Dogs are entirely too common for comfort just now. A black and white animal, with every symptom of being rabid, was seen by Constable Sammis last week, who was unable to kill him. Mr. Litchfield’s dog was bitten, and has since gone mad and been killed. Mrs. Millard’s dog was also bitten and is still at large. On Monday evening about 11 o’clock an ugly looking strange cur, with eyes glaring and giving unmistakable evidence of canine insanity, came through the village going east, he was seen by one of our citizens , who instead of killing the brute, stepped inside his gate and allowed him to pass.

The law in regard to dogs running at large is very strict, and it is astonishing that so many dangerous and worthless animals are allowed the liberty of biting people at their own sweet will. How long is this to be allowed?” Hence, a precursor to mandatory rabies vaccines and leash laws.

Now for your Pay Off: We don’t want history to repeat itself. Last Hope Animal Rescue is sponsoring a FREE RABIES VACCINE CLINIC open to all Long Island pet owners at Babylon Town Shelter on Sat. May 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Dogs must be leashed and cats in carriers. Pups will receive shots outdoors while kitties will be inoculated in the lobby for extra security. Last Hope is able to provide this thanks to a grant from Pet Peeves, Inc., the voice of Long Island pets. Check your pets’ shot records; then mark your calendar.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: So far being a celebrity lookalike has not been enough to land a handsome hunk a new home. “Alec” #94016 is a young Siberian Husky with an uncanny resemblance to Alec Baldwin, especially across the eyes. “Jacque” #94033 a friendly male Jack

Russell Terrier was found tied to a dumpster in N. Amityville. He deserves so much better.

Cats: “Boots” #20694-kitten;

“Jules” & “Snowball”-lovely sisters; “Corran” longhaired orange.

Female Dogs: loving Min Pin

#94043 found at Deer Park Post

Office- visually impaired; red

Husky #94048- thin, young;

“Lydia” & “Trixie”- patient Pits.

Male Dogs: Shihtzu #94034;

“Walter” #93861-happy Belgian

Sheepdog mix; “Prince William” #94027-Beagle; “Santo” #93974 -German Shepherd; “Otis” #93997-brindle Pit.

Final Exam Question: Who was Emile Roux? The first person to email me a correct answer at acjnews@rcn.com will be entitled to free rabies shots for their pets on May 21.!

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