“Rabid Dog in the District”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Massoud Adibpour



DC dog lovers are upset and scared to learn recently that a 1.5-year-old bulldog, Fred, who was in the district as of July 17 was diagnosed with rabies. Fred was a boarding client at Dog-ma even though his family lived in VA. (They wanted him to be able to play outside, and Dog-ma is the only DC doggie daycare with large outside yards.) Fred, like every dog at Dog-ma, he could only join the pack after his humans provided vet documents showing he had up to date vaccinations.

Understandably, that a dog could contract rabies despite up-to-date vaccination is causing a serious reaction within the DC Health Department and DC Animal Control as well as among local vets. The Dept of Health and Fred’s vet suspect a problem with the vaccine batch used on Fred.

Fred was euthanized last week and the various agencies are conducting tests to pinpoint what form of rabies (bat or raccoon vector – it remains known how he got it) and his virus load during the past weeks. This is to determine possible exposures of the critters and humans Fred encountered during the last month of his life out on walks, at his home and at Dog-ma.

We wanted to share what we know and what our plans are to maintain the health and safety of all of the Dog-ma pack and staff:

– Fred was a boarding client only. Fred boarded at Dog-ma from July 14th to July 17th. He acted normaly, but the Dept. of Health epidemiologists have informed us that this is during the period he likely was contagious.

– The DC Dept. of Health’s top vet and zoonotic epidemiologist, Dr, Andrew Hennenfent, informed us: rabies virus is not transmitted through urine or feces nor does it survive in water (so if Fred stuck his drooly head in a puddle and later another dog walked in that water with a cut paw – not an exposure) Nor can rabies virus get through skin. It does not have a long life outside a carrier’s body. So even if we did not clean and bleach Dog-ma yards and inside spaces faithfully several times a day, the facility would not be “contaminated” from Fred drool.

– The exposure risk is if Fred bit or scratched another mammal or a person or dog had Fred drool get into a cut or a person had it on their fingers and rubbed their eyes. Dog-ma closely supervises play and maintains a strict handler-dog ratio, so it is worth noting that staff observed no tussles, much less biting incidents involving Fred. However, Dr. Hennenfent says that as a precaution all dogs that were at Dog-ma when Fred was there – or that could otherwise have come into contact with Fred – should get a new rabies vaccine/booster as soon as possible.

– Every dog that was at Dog-ma when Fred was here may only return to Dog-ma with proof of having had a booster. This is for the safety of those Dog-ma packsters but also the pups who were not present with Fred and the safety of our staff. (Given we are fanatical about having all Dog-ma dogs’ vaccines up to date, our staff does not have prophylactic inoculation against any zoonotic diseases, much less rabies like someone working in animal control encountering raccoons or someone doing bat research would. Thus, all of Dog-ma staff present when Fred was there are getting prophylactic shots – thankfully no longer 10 wide-gauge needles in the stomach, but four shots in the thigh.)

We promised to share with you in real time any additional information or guidance that we receive. This news is unsettling and upsetting. We love your dogs like family and almost every Dogma staff also has at least one of their family dogs playing in the pack most days.”

Thanks to a reader for passing on this letter from the District of Columbia Department of Health:

“Last Friday the District of Columbia Department of Health was notified of a rabid dog that had attended a doggie daycare (Dog-Ma) from July 14 to 17. This dog had received a rabies vaccine from a licensed veterinarian outside of the District several month prior. The potential of a vaccine failure is being investigated and we will provide more information as it becomes available.

While it has not been reported that the dog bit or scratched any other dog during its stay, in an abundance of caution the Department of Health is recommending all dogs that visited Dog-Ma during those dates receive another rabies vaccine immediately, regardless of their current vaccine status, and start a 45-day period of at confinement at home.

The first day of the confinement period should be calculated from the last day their dog was potentially in contact with the rabid dog. If anyone calls to schedule a rabies vaccine today please attempt to fit them into your schedule if at all possible. For any dog you see and booster today please fill out an animal bite report on our rabies webpage.

1. When filling out a report select you are treating “the animal that was attacked (or bit).”

2. Enter the date of the incident at the first date that the owner’s dog was at Dog-Ma with the rabid dog.

3. For the location of the exposure enter: 816 L St SE, Washington, DC 20003.

4. When asked if any person potentially exposed to the biting animal recommended to receive PEP select: “unknown.”

a. I am already of the folks that were exposed and have contacting them.

5. For the bite victim select: “animal.”

6. Then enter the information regarding the dog.

7. When asked to describe the circumstances of the bite list the dates the dog was at Dog-Ma with the rabid dog as well as the rabies vaccine manufacturer and lot number of the shot you just gave.

All of the dogs were previously vaccinated and are considered very low risk. Keep in mind there is no risk to you or your staff of rabies until a few days before animals display clinical signs and even then, minimal risk as long as standard infectious disease precautions are taken (i.e. wearing gloves and hand washing immediately after the exam).


Andrew Kuster Hennenfent, DVM, MPH
Senior Zoonotic Disease Epidemiologist

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