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VIEWPOINT: Circumstances at Humane Society force tough decisions

GRAND FORKS -- I sincerely appreciate the kind support from many area residents for the Circle of Friends Humane Society and its staff during the past two weeks. Many people carefully considered our issues and understood the staggering difficulty...

GRAND FORKS -- I sincerely appreciate the kind support from many area residents for the Circle of Friends Humane Society and its staff during the past two weeks. Many people carefully considered our issues and understood the staggering difficulty of our situation.

These thoughtful people recognize that rabies is incredibly complex and acknowledge that animal sheltering is complicated.

Others in our community have not been so considerate. Some, in fact, have been extraordinarily cruel. Unless you interact with these pets every day and do the work we do, you cannot possibly understand the grief experienced in the past weeks.

Our organization and its staff members do not deserve the insensitivity from those individuals who feel they have all the answers yet none of the experience, information or common sense required to make difficult decisions.

The North Dakota Board of Animal Health and the North Dakota Department of Health were knowledgeable, supportive and understanding. Their recommendation to euthanize the dogs at risk was not easy for them and came only after studied deliberations, taking into consideration conversations with experts of all kinds.

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No one made impulsive or irresponsible decisions, and no options were overlooked. The fact remains that there is no test that can guarantee with 100 percent accuracy a pet's protection from rabies. Without that guarantee, human safety could not be assured.

Neither Minnesota nor North Dakota officials could accept the responsibility for exposing even more people if the dogs were moved into quarantine at another location. If we quarantined these dogs at the shelter for six months, where would the additional 840 animals that we expect to come in during that time period be sheltered?

A dog's emotional and physical well-being often deteriorates during much shorter periods of kenneling, to say nothing about the strict six-month quarantine with minimal human interaction.

We began operation in 1975 as a shelter whose mission it is to accept all stray dogs and cats -- including strays no one else will take. Before a shelter existed, stray animals very often would be shot. Today, however, these animals have a place to come at an average of 35 per week. Already this year, we have received 495 animals.

Almost 80 percent of the animals we get are strays.

To eliminate the possibility of rabies exposure entirely from a shelter environment, we would have to stop accepting strays. The outcome for stray animals then would be the same as it was in the early 1970s. The risk of rabies exposure for animals and humans alike also would be greater with the increase in the number of unconfined strays. Those are not acceptable options.

By law, rabies vaccine can be administered and securely stored only by a licensed veterinarian. Vaccinating for rabies here at the shelter would not have prevented this situation. If an animal already is infected with the rabies virus, a rabies vaccination will not cure it.

In the time an animal is here at our shelter, a rabies vaccination also may not protect that animal from the potential of being exposed by other strays since it takes almost a month for the vaccination to become initially protective. Then, it must be followed by another vaccination within 12 months.

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The fact is, any pet allowed to roam unconfined runs the risk of being exposed to rabies, including those running down the street, through your yards or wandering over from the next farm. Skunks, muskrats, raccoons and bats are some of the animals known to transmit rabies to dogs and humans.

The bottom line is that pet owners must take responsibility for vaccinating their pets, protecting themselves and others from a disease as devastating as rabies.

Once again, thank you to those who have expressed support and kindness. You are the ones who know this situation did not originate with the Humane Society. You also know that we do not create the strays received here nor are we the ones who let thousands of animals each year run loose and reproduce indiscriminately.

It is, however, our staff members who dedicate themselves to these pets every single day -- despite heartbreak and sometimes incredible grief. I'm proud of their grace under enormous pressure, but I'm not surprised. These are talented people who handle difficult decisions every day, committing themselves to the 2,100 to 2,400 animals that come to us every year, advocating for their well-being and trying to find them wonderful homes.

Moen is executive director of the Circle of Friends Humane Society.

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