Forty dogs at the Waco Animal Shelter were euthanized by the end of Friday after being exposed to a rabies-infected dog from Lorena, and at least one city official puts the blame on an irresponsible dog owner.
City of Waco spokesman Larry Holze said the 2-year-old, white-and-brown Labrador-Pyrenees mix was picked up as a stray by animal control officials March 11 from the 200 block of South Front Street in Lorena.
The dog was quarantined when it was first taken to the shelter, which is standard protocol, but it was later moved into the general population after it showed no signs of illness.
On March 16, shelter staff noticed the dog exhibiting signs of rabies. It was euthanized on March 17.
Holze said about 20 dogs were put down earlier in the week, and the remaining 19 or 20 were put down Friday.
The city followed state guidelines, which gave the shelter only two options: either immediately vaccinate all potentially exposed dogs and keep them confined for 45-90 days or to euthanize any who might have been exposed to the virus, Holze said.
Don Bland, executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas, which handles adoptions for the shelter, said the shelter currently has 322 animals, including fosters. Bland added that the shelter can hold up to about 500 at any given time.
“We’ve had some really high adoption days lately,” Bland said. “Last week, during spring break, we had over 50 go out two days in a row. For during the week, that’s very unusual. Those are the numbers you normally see on a Friday or Saturday.”
Of the animals under shelter care, an average of 20 percent were euthanized in February and 23 percent in January. Bland said the reasons for euthanizing animals vary, but that rabies exposure is uncommon.
Shelter animals receive a number of vaccinations upon intake, but the rabies vaccine is only administered if they’re leaving the shelter to go to an off-site event or when they’re adopted, he said.
Holze said officials were saddened by the decision to euthanize but that it was the responsible thing to do to ensure safety of the other dogs and the general Waco community.
“We had no choice but to take drastic measures,” he said. “We want to always do the right thing. It’s not always the most popular thing, but we want to be responsible.
“This whole thing was the result of one irresponsible dog owner,” Holze said, adding that he thought the original infected dog was not wild, but previously owned and perhaps abandoned by someone. “If all dog owners took care of their dogs like they should, this wouldn’t be happening.
“You have these happy dogs, just looking for a new home and jumping around and having fun, waiting for someone to love them and take care of them,” Holze said, his voice cracking. “But we have to have these measures set up to protect the health and well-being of the animals and people they come into contact with.”
The Animal Birth Control Clinic, at 3238 Clay Ave., offers $10 walk-in rabies vaccinations Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Executive Director Carrie Kuehl said.
“Had the person who was originally at some point responsible for this dog gotten that vaccination, all of these lives would have been saved,” Kuehl said.
Waco-McLennan County Health District spokeswoman Kelly Craine said a few people called in recently with concerns about contracting rabies, but none of those cases warranted any treatment.
She said the city of Lorena and the state health centers also received phone calls.
“Our advice to callers is always that if you’re concerned, you should see your doctor and let them evaluate you,” Craine said. “Fortunately, no one has been considered an exposure.”
Early symptoms of rabies in humans mirror that of the flu, including fever, headache or general weakness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An infected person later may develop anxiety, confusion and agitation, which eventually leads to delirium, hallucinations, insomnia and other abnormal behavior. The disease can be fatal.