By Marcia Hill Gossard, College of Veterinary Medicine
Every time a dog comes in for a rabies vaccination at the Lien Animal Clinic in West Seattle, the clinic donates $1 to the WSU Canine Rabies Vaccination Program to help end rabies around the globe.
“Many people don’t know much about rabies because it is not a big problem in the United States,” says clinic co-owner and WSU alumna, Dr. Beth Fritzler (’91 DVM). “But it is a serious disease.”
Each year an estimated 60,000 people die from rabies worldwide. Almost all deaths are in Africa and Asia. Half of the deaths are children under the age of 16.
In developed countries, such as the United States, rabies is quite rare in dogs because city and state policies require animals to be vaccinated. And rabies vaccines are also widely available at neighborhood veterinary clinics. But in many developing countries where the vaccine is not routinely available, more than 99 percent of human rabies deaths are caused from a bite from an infected dog.
In 2015, the Lien Animal Clinic teamed up with the WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and other veterinary clinics across the country to help end human rabies deaths by 2030. WSU is leading canine rabies vaccination programs in Tanzania and Kenya. The goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of dogs in a community to reach herd immunity and prevent the spread of rabies to other dogs, wildlife, and people.
For Fritzler and her husband Dr. Tim Kraabel (’89 DVM), who also earned a degree in veterinary medicine from WSU and is a Lien Clinic co-owner, participating in this program seemed like a natural fit. They not only wanted to raise awareness about rabies, but they had a personal connection to Kenya. Fritzler and Kraabel visited with their three children in 2007 and then again in 2012 when their then eighth-grade daughter and her classmates raised money to help Maasai schools.
“Before I went, I was asked by some of the teachers to vaccinate dogs,” says Fritzler, who explains that the dogs there are not pets, but herding animals that roam free. “They wanted to help protect the kids at the school.”
Participating in the program also has been a way to help start a discussion about rabies. In the last number of years, the trend has been to vaccinate pets less, she says. In part, because rabies is rare in Washington state, generally only seen in wild animals because owners routinely vaccinate their pets. “Vaccinating for rabies is really a public service,” says Fritzler. In Kenya, it is a matter of life or death. “They see vaccinating dogs as an important way to protect their families.”
Over the last three years the Lien Clinic has given nearly $8,000, which would help to vaccinate about 800 dogs in Africa. Fritzler says being part of the program has even led to clients giving small donations when they pay their bill. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about the program,” she says. “The staff also feels very positive about it and that they are in a small way making a difference.”
Just over 50 veterinary clinics across the country are participating in the WSU Canine Rabies Vaccination Program. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are about 50,000 companion animal veterinarians in the United States. So, with more involvement, a one-dollar donation for every rabies vaccine given across the country would add up to make a big difference in the pursuit to end rabies deaths. “I would encourage other clinics to think about doing this,” says Fritzler. “It is an easy thing to do.”
This article originally appeared in The Global Health Perspective, a quarterly newsletter for the WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health newsletter. The efforts by WSU and others to combat rabies worldwide also was featured in Washington State Magazine’s Summer 2017 issue.