Chase pens spread rabies
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1995:
ATLANTA––Hunters illegally translocating coyotes from Texas could cause rabies out-
breaks “the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s,” warns
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rabies section chief Dr. Charles Rupprecht.
“This is a hot bug for dogs,” Rupprecht explained on August 10. “Dogs are the biggest
indicator of this outbreak, and we do not want it to get out of south Texas.”
Transmission occurs when coyotes or foxes in the latent phase of rabies––when they are
often easiest to catch––are trapped for use in chase pens, where hunters “train” hounds by setting
them on the captive animals, a growing pastime in much of the country. The coyotes or foxes may
either bite the hounds or escape from the pens to spread rabies elsewhere. At one Florida chase pen,
eight dogs were infected late last year, obliging 26 people to get post-rabies exposure shots, while
a 20-square-mile area was put under quarantine.
Florida had 110 known animal cases in the first half of 1995, after finding a record 258
cases in 1994. “We had about 20 cat cases. The last time we saw that was in the late 1940s,” said
state health department epidemiologist William Bigler, who also cited chase pens as a risk factor.
North Carolina, another state where chase pens are big, found 112 rabid animals in the
first third of 1995, mostly raccoons and skunks.
“This is [also] how raccoon rabies got stated,” Ruprecht warned. Until coonhunters took
infected raccoons to West Virginia in 1976, raccoon rabies was “Just a phenomenon in Florida.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE subscriber Mona Lefebvre of Topeka, Kansas, has since 1974 col-
lected repeated promises from the Humane Society of the U.S. and other humane groups that they
will work to ban chase pens, but to date none have given the pens a high profile in campaigns.
The best hope for halting the coyote rabies outbreak seems to be the use of an oral vaccine
embedded in bait balls, similar to the vaccine used successfully against fox rabies in Euope for
more than 15 years, and the one approved by the USDA in April, after years of testing, for use
against raccoon rabies. Malcolm Browne of the New York Times reported on July 25 that “A large-
scale trial of the oral vaccine that began last February in the southern tip of Texas seems for the
moment to have virtually stopped the northward march of the disease toward San Antonio.”
Approval of the oral vaccine for raccoons came just as New York reported the most cases
of rabies among animals––nearly 10,000––ever found in a year in one state. Most involved either
raccoons or bats.