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Province to decide fate of dogs exposed to rabid raccoon

The two Hamilton dogs that were exposed to Ontario’s first case of raccoon rabies in a decade will have to be either moved to a long-term quarantine location to see if they have contracted the infection or be put down, the city says.

Ministry dropping rabies vaccine bait in Hamilton this week

A fight between two Ontario dogs and an aggressive raccoon in the back of an animal control van has led to the discovery of the first documented case of rabies in a raccoon in the province in nearly a decade. Mr. Satan, shown in this handout photo, was one of the two bull mastiffs involved in the fight with a raccoon after being picked up by animal services. (Paula Fancey/Canadian Press)

The two Hamilton dogs that were exposed to Ontario's first case of raccoon rabies in a decade have been granted a stay of execution and are still under the city's care in quarantine.

But soon, they will have to be either moved to another location for a long-term quarantine to see if they have contracted the infection, or be put down, the city says. In the meantime, the ministry is blanketing sections of Hamilton with baited rabies vaccines to control any possible spread.

"Animal Services can only hold the dogs for so long and we still have them," said city spokesperson Ann Lamanes. But the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural affairs will decide if the dogs are euthanized or quarantined elsewhere, she said.

"We are hoping this decision will be made as soon as possible," she said.

Representatives from the Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment on the decision. Lamanes said she did not have a cut-off date for how long the city would hold the dogs.

Dogs exposed in back of a city van

Paula Fancey, who owns the dogs — named Mr. Satan and Lexus — said she cannot afford to board them in isolation for the recommended three-to-six months to ensure they are free of rabies.

"I still think the city should pay for boarding," Fancey said, adding that she and her daughter received rabies shots over the weekend. "Otherwise I will have to put them down."

Lamanes confirmed that the dogs and their owners have both gotten rabies shots. She would not, however, say if the city paid for them. "That's confidential information and I can't comment further," she said.

Last Wednesday, an animal services officer picked up the dogs after they escaped their yard and placed them in cages in a van with a sick raccoon.

Somehow the raccoon and one of the dogs got loose from their cages and fought in the van, leading to injuries for both dogs. The raccoon was later euthanized and tested positive for rabies while the unvaccinated dogs were exposed to the virus due to the brawl.

The city says it's reviewing its protocols, namely the security of cages in its vehicles and whether wildlife should be transported in the same vans as domestic animals.

The province is now dropping rabies vaccine bait by hand and by helicopter this week in an effort to make sure the infection doesn't spread.

First case of raccoon rabies since 2005

Wildlife officers will walk the trails and green spaces dropping the baits, and a helicopter will airdrop them across the vast farmlands of nearby Stoney Creek, said Chris Davies, head of wildlife research with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

They'll also airdrop the packets into Hamilton's ravines, he added.

This has been the first case of the raccoon rabies strain found in Ontario since 2005, Davies said. The fox rabies strain hasn't been detected in Ontario since 2010, while bat rabies remains in small pockets in the province.

"We always take this seriously and we're pretty proud to have eliminated terrestrial rabies," Davies said. "Now it's back and we'll start again."

Ministry Science Transfer Specialist Beverly Stevenson told CBC News that the ministry is enacting "enhanced surveillance" of the area. Unless another rabies case is confirmed, however, the plan is for these vaccination drops to be a one off.

The city will pass on roadkill to the ministry to be tested, alongside any animals who are acting strangely. 

But is this a one time infection or part of a larger outbreak? "It's too early to say just yet," she said.

Davies said the strain is known as the South Atlantic Florida strain that came into Canada at Cornwall, Ont., in 1999. It has been detected in the province since September 2005, he said. It probably arrived in Canada thanks to an American raccoon who bummed a ride into Canada.

"We think it's most likely that it was a hitchhiker — as in it came up on a truck from the United States," Davies said. "But to be honest, we'll probably never know for sure."

He said the ministry will also be monitoring the area, looking for roadkill to test for rabies to gauge if it's spread.

With files from The Canadian Press

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