Rabid Kitten Leads to Questions About Animal Shelter Regulations

The confirmation of a rabies infected kitten at the Heartland Rescue Ranch in Southport has left many asking how shelters prevent cases like this.
The Departments of Health and the Department of Agriculture regulate government run shelters. However, privately run rescues are not regulated. This particular rescue with the rabies-infected kitten, is a privately run non-profit that opened about six months ago.
When the kitten showed up at Heartland Rescue Reserve at the end of December, owner Amy Shepherd said he showed no signs of having rabies. Then, last Monday, she noticed the kitten was panting. By Tuesday, he was dragging his back legs. She said she knew something was wrong.
“I had never seen anything like this. I really didn’t know what it was. That’s why I went straight to my veterinarian,” said Shepherd.
All suspected rabies cases are supposed to be reported to the Florida Department of Health. Epidemiology teams then try to identify any people or other animals that may have come in contact with the infected animal. 
“Any way that we can contact them, that’s what our epidemiology team is doing. That’s what they’re trained to do in any instance, in any reportable disease,” said Heather Kretzer, Dept. of Health Public Information Officer.
Many questioning how this could have happened. Bay County officials said there are no ordinances or rules governing privately owned animal shelters. As for Heartland Rescue Ranch, Shepherd says she follows a certain protocol whenever she receives a new animal. 
“Before, when we got an animal in, we would quarantine it, especially for cats and kittens. We would make sure they weren’t coughing, sneezing… So we would quarantine them for about a week to make sure they appeared healthy. Then they would go into another kennel area with more kittens, and those kittens were all vaccinated at four months. They would start vaccinations before four months with the FRVCP, and then at four months, they would receive the rabies and be spayed and neutered,” says Shepherd.
As a result of this incident, Shepherd says she’ll be implementing stricter precautions, stating, “We’re learning a lot, as are a lot of other rescues in our area. But, at this time, we are not allowed to take animals that do not have a previous sixth month history… The biggest thing I want is for anyone in the animal field to know that they need to have a rabies vaccine. That’s a series of three vaccinations they can get at the Health Department.”
The Health Department is urging anyone who may have come in contact with this kitten to seek medical attention immediately and begin the proper precautionary treatments.

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