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More than 20 dogs to be put down in Grand Forks rabies case

More than 20 dogs likely will be euthanized this week, and about 15 people have been referred to their physicians after a rabid dog was brought to Grand Forks' Circle of Friends Humane Society, officials said Monday.

State Veterinarian Susan Keller said the North Dakota Board of Animal Health assessed the dogs that were at the facility from March 15 to 20, the timeframe of possible contact with the rabies carrier.

Keller said she had several discussions with Circle of Friends Executive Director Arlette Moen, who explained that they don't allow the dogs to come into direct contact with each other and take other precautions.

The facility's actions mean the risk of transmission was low, Keller said, but Moen still couldn't guarantee that exposure didn't happen.

'The right thing'

Moen said about 20 at-risk dogs still are at Circle of Friends, and another 14 have been adopted. Officials still are determining how many will need to be euthanized.

"The Board of Animal Health wants to err on the side of caution, and that's important," she said. "When you're talking about human health and other pets, you want to do the right thing for everybody involved."

Cookie, a blue heeler mix, was picked up with another stray March 9 in Marshall County, Minn., and brought to Circle of Friends. She was sent to a Grafton foster home March 20 and began to show rabies symptoms five days later.

On March 27, Cookie was taken to a veterinarian and euthanized. Tissue samples tested positive for rabies, and officials were notified March 31.

Rabies, a virus that affects mammals, is almost always fatal. It is spread through a bite or saliva contact with an open wound or mucus membrane, like the eyes or mouth.

'A unique situation'

Keller said she's never heard of a case like this in her 12 years of working for the state.

"This is definitely a unique situation, but the take-home message is how important it is for people to keep track of their animals so we don't have stray animals," she said.

It's also important to have pets wear a tag that identifies their owner and vaccination history, Keller said. If all those steps were taken by pet owners, she said, "we wouldn't be dealing with this problem."

Moen said several people have asked why Circle of Friends doesn't vaccinate all the animals for rabies. She pointed out vaccinating Cookie ­wouldn't have helped because the dog already had the virus.

Another problem, Moen said, is it would take a six-month quarantine of all new animals to ensure they don't have rabies. That's impossible when the facility gets 35 to 40 animals a week, she said.