Letter: Trapping and the spread of rabies

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Editor of the Reformer,

Ever since watching Old Yeller slowly transform into a wild rabid beast, eventually put down by his faithful owner, rabies has been a source of overdramatized fear in America. Any time an animal is seen acting what is thought to be unusual, communities too often start a witch-hunt for the next animal victim. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only a rare 1-3 humans and about 60 dogs are reported annually to contract rabies in all of America.

After a rare bobcat attack in Hartford, Vermont last month, the fear of rabies is of great concern, along with increased citizen interest as to how to prevent the spread of rabies. Luckily rabid bobcats are rare in Vermont with only five testing positive, statewide, over the last 10 years, according to the VT Department of Health. People often mistake a raccoon or skunk that's simply seen during the daytime as rabid, which is an unnecessary cause for alarm.

As for preventative methods, trap, vaccinate, and release programs have proved effective in stopping the spread of rabies in a racoon population in Central Park. Vermont performs rabies bait drops each August that also seem to work well. What does not work well, however, is the preemptive trapping and killing of bobcats and other furbearers to prevent disease. Trappers will have you believe that trapping prevents outbreaks but these practices can actually increase the spread of disease. By removing mature animals that may have acquired immunity to disease, trappers make room for newcomers who may not be immune. In addition, rabid animals generally do not eat during the latter stages of the disease, and therefore do not respond to baited traps. Hence, traps set in an area infected with rabies will more than likely capture healthy animals rather than infected animals, thereby potentially increasing the likelihood that the disease will spread. Traps also capture various non-targeted animals from endangered species to dogs and cats.

While trapping might seem like the fast and easy solution for disease control, it actually can have the opposite effect.

Shannon Ritter

Burlington, Jan. 11

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