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Illinois Rabies Bill Draws Criticism and Praise

Illinois Rabies Bill Draws Criticism and Praise
By: Amy Jacquin

Some veterinarians believe an Illinois House Bill will become a public health threat if passed.

House Bill 315 adds a $3 fee to every rabies shot. That money would start a low-cost spay/neuter and rabies vaccination program for low-income residents. It also exempts "farm dogs" and feral cats from requiring a rabies vaccination registration.

Some veterinarians are speaking out against the bill as it's written now, saying it jeopardizes pet and people health.

"It's not been thought out for the ramifications of rural Illinois," says a Dongola veterinarian.

Dr. Tony Ulrich's fears are two-fold. First, people will rebel against the additional fee and not get the vaccination. And second, exempting farm dogs from vaccination registration is the same thing as saying they don't even need the shot.

"It's not very clear," Ulrich adds. "And if someone like me can question it, I guarantee some smart attorney is thinking the same thing."

However, a representative with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that's just not the case.

She says an amendment to HB 315 reverts registration back to the Animal Control Act currently in place... which requires all dogs and cats over four months to have proof of vaccination. She says counties still have control over registration requirements and fees.

The bill defines "farm dogs" as dogs living at a farming business. But many Southern Illinoians have rural addresses, and vets are not going to know.

"They don't need another excuse not to get a rabies vaccination!" says Dr. Ulrich.

But the ASPCA expects counties to help with the policing.

Skunks are the biggest rabies carriers in our region. But raccoon rabies is coming from the east, and coyote rabies from the southwest... Farm dogs are exposed to all those wild animals.

"It's not a matter of if it comes, but when," says Ulrich. "It will greatly increases the potential exposure for an entire population of dogs. And that means owners will be exposed."

Anytime a person is even potentially exposed to rabies, it requires extensive and painful treatment.

"I have mixed emotions," says Penny South, manager of P.A.W.S. Place in Anna. "On one hand, I'm glad the government is actually looking into the problem and wants to do something."

Animal welfare workers are on the front lines of the pet overpopulation and disease struggles... Yet penny admits she's not sure HB 315 has all the right answers.

"People get irritated and they stop doing anything about it," she explains. "Then you end-up with fewer people actually getting shots than before."

The ASPCA says there are similar laws in five states, and there is no evidence to prove a $3 fee discourages anyone from getting their pets vaccinated. She calls that a "scare tactic" by veterinarians.

"It's a bad bill for rural Illinois," stresses Ulrich. "You need to contact your congressmen and let them know this bill is not good for this area."

But the ASPCA representative suggests veterinarians just don't want the extra responsibility of collecting the extra fees.

She says HB 315 would be a boon for Southern Illinois, saying counties can tap-into an expected $3.5 million dollars a year to help with low-cost alteration and vaccination programs... most of which would be generated from Chicago pet owners.

Another concern of Dr. Ulrich, is that state law allows "special use" funds to be confiscated for general operations if needed. But the bill includes language preventing it from the Governor's raid.

Everyone we talked with supports one aspect of the bill, allowing people to donate to the low-cost alteration and vaccination fund by checking a box on their tax form.

You can reach the ASPCA for comment or questions at ledyv@aspca.org or 618-345-8086.

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