Four rabies cases have been confirmed in raccoons so far this year, which Bob Marotto, Director of Orange County Animal Services, says is above the number of cases recorded at this point in recent years.

In 2012 and 2013, twelve cases of rabies were confirmed. Marotto adds that those figures were at the lower end of the range of yearly cases the county has recorded in the past two decades.

In 2005-2007, there were more than 20 confirmed cases per year.

“Twelve is actually low by historical standards. If you go back into the 1990s when raccoon rabies first erupted in our region, in our state and in our county, I believe that there were upwards of 90 confirmed cases each year,” Marotto says.

The fourth rabies case in 2014 was reported around February 27 when a Chapel Hill resident spotted his dog near a raccoon that appeared to be almost dead. The resident removed his dog from the area and called Animal Control to remove the rabid raccoon for testing.

Marotto explains that dog was not believed to have had direct contact with the raccoon, but the possibility of exposure before the owner’s arrival couldn’t be ruled out.

Unfortunately, the dog was not currently vaccinated against rabies. North Carolina law requires that it must be either destroyed or quarantined for a period of six months, which is very costly for the pet owner.

“It is not often that we have a case where there’s been an exposure of a dog or cat to rabies and the dog or cat is not vaccinated, but when that happens, the choices that face the owner are dreadful choices.”

Marotto reminds residents to have their pets vaccinated. Dogs, cats, and ferrets older than four months are legally required to be up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

“It is prevention and reporting—I think that is really true. The prevention is that we always want to insure that our animals are vaccinated against rabies.”

If you or your pet encounters an animal believed to be rabid, you should report it to Animal Services immediately by calling 919.942.7387.

It is also advised that pets not be allowed to roam free where they can be exposed to wildlife.

The Animal Services Department holds periodic low-cost vaccination clinics throughout the year. Their next one will be held on Thursday, March 20, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Farmer’s Market in Hillsborough.  The cost for rabies vaccinations is $10, and only cash will be accepted at this clinic.

Click here for a complete list of 2014 clinic dates.