Invasion stops progress against fox rabies outbreak raging since 2004
KHARKIV, Ukraine; ATLANTA, Georgia; SURPRISE, Arizona––The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] web site has quietly announced, without an accompanying media release, that it “is working to expedite import permit requests for dogs that originate in Ukraine and surrounding countries for persons wishing to import their personally owned pet dogs.
“Dogs are still required to meet all of CDC’s entry requirements,” the web site says, including proof of current vaccination against rabies.
“All dogs that have been in a high-risk country in the past six months,” a category including Ukraine, “may only enter the United States through an approved port of entry, which includes all 18 airports with a CDC quarantine station,” the CDC web site adds.
Eligible points of entry for refugee dogs
The list of airports accessible to refugees and other displaced persons from Ukraine bringing their dogs with them includes Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
“All dogs imported into the United States must be healthy on arrival,” the CDC advisory concludes.
Animal welfare administrators’ advisory
For 50 years, more or less, the former Society of Animal Welfare Administrators [SAWA], founded in 1970, seemed concerned about Mad Russians only when served in hotel bars.
After decades as reputedly the most exclusive drinking club in the animal welfare field, however, SAWA recently renamed itself the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, and is suddenly very concerned about the Mad Russian in the Kremlin, mad dogs and Ukrainians, and what the anticipated influx of refugees and displaced persons may mean for U.S. animal care and control agencies.
Reminded Association for Animal Welfare Advancement chief administrator Katherine M. Shenar in a March 18, 2022 email to membership, under the heading “Is Your Agency Prepared For Ukranian Pets?”, “Ukraine is one of the countries listed as High Risk for Rabies by the Center for Disease Control.”
What”High Risk for Rabies” means
All imports of dogs from the 113 nations on the “High Risk for Rabies” list were suspended effective June 21, 2021, two months before the frantic last-minute evacuation of foreigners from Afghanistan left several hundred dogs stranded because Afghanistan was included on the list.
The suspension was implemented, National Public Radio reported, because “During 2020, the CDC discovered more than 450 dogs arriving in the U.S. with falsified or fraudulent rabies certificates, a 52% increase compared with the previous two years.”
At least one of those dogs, brought from Azerbaijan, proved to be actively rabid.
The CDC in November 2021 amended the suspension to allow “travelers flying with dogs who received their inoculations from a U.S.-licensed veterinarian to return to the United States from the previously banned countries, providing the animal is healthy, microchipped and at least six months old, and its owner can provide a valid U.S.-issued rabies vaccination certificate.”
Since the requirement that rabies vaccinations and certificates must be provided by a U.S.-licensed veterinarian remains in effect, how exactly the CDC is “working to expedite import permit requests for dogs that originate in Ukraine and surrounding countries for persons wishing to import their personally owned pet dogs” remains unclear.
Meanwhile, wrote Shenar to animal welfare administrators, “To help your agency plan for potential refugees and their pets entering your community, the National Animal Care & Control Association, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, and the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program are recommending animal care and control agencies across the country prepare for the possibility of refugee families with pets seeking emergency entry into the United States traveling through international airports or borders.
“Your agency might be required to help pets owned by Ukrainian refugees in this situation,” Shenar said, “most traveling from a European country that might have relaxed pet vaccination requirements.
“Please know that the CDC is making exceptions to the current ban on a case-by-case basis for family pets, and individuals can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for information on allowing their dog into the United States.”
Outbreak receding––until the invasion
The most recent available information about rabies in Ukraine is that 263 cases were discovered in domestic animals and 144 cases in wildlife during the first six months of 2021.
That represented a marked decrease from the 392 cases of rabies found in domestic animals and 144 cases found in wildlife during the second half of 2020.
Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases [ProMED] archives indicate that international concern about canine rabies possibly spreading from Ukraine emerged in January 2005, after a rabid wolf bit two men and two women on New Year’s Eve in Novokamenka village, Velikooleksandrovsky district, Kherson region, an area occupied by Russian troops since March 3, 2022.
Those victims received prompt post-exposure vaccination, but later in January 2005, 370 miles north, a 34-year-old man who had neglected to seek treatment died of rabies he apparently contracted when he was bitten by a fox in the Shulskoe settlement of Pervomaisky, in the Kharkov region.
By April the outbreak had spread from wildlife, chiefly foxes, to dogs.
Ukraine rabies control system changed in 2006
Rabies control in Ukraine at that time was still conducted by “budkas,” agencies staffed by prisoners on parole.
Created when Ukraine was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR], ruled from 1922 to 1953 by the dictator Joseph Stalin, the “budkas” were expected to support themselves by selling dog pelts, meat, and bones, and did little except catch and kill free-roaming dogs.
The “budka” system, privatized after Ukraine left the USSR in 1991, was legally dismantled in 2006, replaced by a patchwork of municipal animal control agencies and nonprofit humane societies, mostly “no kill,” similar to the animal care-and-control network functioning in the U.S. and most other developed nations.
The transition was accompanied by the introduction of a national wildlife vaccination program that used air drops of vaccine pellets flavored to attract foxes, in particular.
Vaccination campaign faltered
The same technique had eradicated fox rabies from western Europe more than 15 years earlier, and had been used successfully against rabies outbreaks among foxes, raccoons, and coyotes in the U.S., but faltered at first in Ukraine as result of under-funding, inexperience, alleged corruption, and alleged sabotage by former “budka” operators who wanted to see a return to the former system, under which they had prospered.
In addition, a national rabies vaccine shortage inhibited efforts to encourage vaccination of domestic pets.
The Ukraine State Research Center for Laboratory Diagnostics & Veterinary-Sanitary Expertise reported that 778 rabid cats and dogs were diagnosed in 2006, 1,169 in 2007, and 1,181 in
2008, but the main rabies reservoir in Ukraine remained foxes, State Administration for
Veterinary Medicine chief Lyudmila Oleynik said.
Reports from January 2008 indicate that rabies spread from foxes to men hunting foxes with pit bulls in forests surrounding Khakov. One suspected dogfighter died from rabies.
Russian attack destroys bat habitat
Bat rabies meanwhile menaced humans in the Donetsk region, which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014 and has been partially occupied by Russian troops since March 2, 2022, with intensive fighting still underway.
Bats apparently found congenial homes in Soviet-era apartment towers, many of them now destroyed by Russian shelling and bombing.
Rabies spread by both bats and foxes next moved west along the Ukrainian/Russian frontier to the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, a quasi-wildlife refuge ever since.
There a rabid wolf bit six workers in September 2009.
Simultaneously, rabies moved south into the Crimean peninsula, occupied by Russian troops since 2014.
Success in oral rabies vaccination target areas
But by late 2009 the oral rabies vaccination campaigns had reduced the number of rabies cases detected in Ukrainian target areas among wildlife from 378 in 2005 to 32, in farmed animals from 149 to 11, and in dogs and cats from 409 to 101.
Success in eradicating rabies, except among bats, appeared to be within reach, but politics worked against the vaccination efforts.
The Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, the national capital, in mid-2010 introduced a bounty on foxes instead of cooperating with the oral rabies vaccination campaign.
Rabies cases in the Donetsk region more than doubled, with 83% of the detected cases coming among unvaccinated domestic animals.
Exaggerated reports about cat rabies––where eight rabid cats were found––panicked Kharkiv in 2011.
Then, before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, the governments of several host cities initiated public massacres of street dogs.
“We don’t need foreigners to castrate our dogs!”
By invitation of the Ukraine national government, the Austrian-based organization Vier Pfoten (Four Paws in the English-speaking world) sent mobile clinics to offer free vaccinations and spay/neuter service.
Soon after the soccer tournament, however, dog massacres resumed in Kyiv.
Vier Pfoten withdrew from Kyiv, temporarily, in 2012, after Ukraine project director Amir Khalil was anonymously warned, he recounted, that “I could be killed exactly like happened to a judge in Kharkiv,” found decapitated with three members of his family in their home in December 2012.
“They said: ‘We don’t need foreigners to castrate our dogs!'”, Khalil reported, but Kyiv authorities and police did nothing, he said, to protect him and the other Vier Pfoten personnel.
Rabies spread again after 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea
Rabies outbreaks meanwhile spread to the Ternopil, Kirovohrad, Cherkasy, and Odessa regions, southwest of the previous rabies prevention efforts, in areas which––while well within the Ukrainian borders––were disrupted by the February 2014 invasion of the Crimean peninsula, farther south.
Rabies attributed to growing numbers of homeless dogs and cats coming into contact with a resurgent fox population reportedly rebounded in the Kharkov region in 2015, amid a continuing national shortage of anti-rabies vaccines and immunoglobulin for post-exposure treatment of suspected rabid bites of humans.
Vier Pfoten, however, returned to work near Kyiv, sterilizing and vaccinating 120 dogs at Chernobyl in August 2017.