Arnprior Chronicle

The Arnprior Chronicle
August 24, 2004
OPINION

RABIES PROGRAM MONEY NEEDS TO BE BETTER SPENT

Re: Rabies Program Needs Review

I congratulate The Arnprior Chronicle-Guide for raising awareness of the raccoon rabies issue in Eastern Ontario through the article in your August 10th issue.

I would like to offer clarification on a number of points. As reported, the Ontario Wildlife Coalition has requested the support of area councils in recommending that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources review its raccoon rabies program.

We did this because of the very negative impact of the Ministry’s current program on local communities.

Namely, people seeking assistance for any orphaned baby wild animal are no longer able to obtain help because of the Ministry’s restrictive policies.  People are frustrated and angry to find that help that used to be available through the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre and its contingent of volunteers in counties like Renfrew is no longer an option.

Area veterinarians and humane societies are also feeling the brunt of people’s frustration and are concerned that many compassionate but untrained people are left with no choice but to care for rescued baby animals themselves. 

The Coalition is also highly concerned about the fact that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources raccoon rabies program is the most costly in North America.

Raccoon rabies is the lowest public health risk in the world and yet here in Ontario millions of dollars is spent each year on “control” programs and millions more is spent on testing and research.

A “rabies industry” of government scientists, academics and vaccine and bait manufacturers has grown dependent on millions of dollars of public funds each year.

These programs are furthered by unsupportable fear-mongering such as the MNR reference in the article to “this deadly disease” when, in fact, only one person has died due to raccoon rabies in the fifty years since the disease was discovered.

The MNR states that the program “is founded on sound, scientific advice and is so successful that other nations have sought our help in controlling this deadly disease”.  In fact, there have been no scientific studies to show that “depopulation” (an element of the MNR program whereby all raccoons, skunks or foxes within 5 kilometers of a positive case are killed) plays any part in successful rabies control programs.

As the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. states, “the oral vaccine/aerial baiting program has been successful in keeping raccoon rabies under control”. Certainly, outside of New Brunswick which simply imported the MNR program, there is no other jurisdiction in North America which uses the extremely labour-intensive and expensive MNR  “trap-vaccinate-release” and even more controversial “depopulation” approach.

Actually, “depopulation” which has resulted in more than 10,000 animals being killed in Eastern Ontario with almost all (99.8%) turning out to be healthy, is considered Ontario’s shame.

The reference in the article to it costing $300 to $400 per animal reflects only the cost of testing these animals by the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As mentioned in my presentation to McNab-Braeside Council, it is amazing that the government feels it a priority to allocate such significant funds to test wild animals where, in over 90% of the cases, there has been no human contact and therefore no threat and where almost all of the animals prove to be healthy. Yet, this same agency turns down various Cattlemen Associations who would like to see all cattle tested for BSE so that markets such as Japan do not remain closed to Canadian beef.

The raccoon rabies program has not been reviewed by government in the ten years since it began. We believe it is time to do so.

Public funds need to be re-directed to areas of higher priority given the financial crisis we are facing in basic health care delivery, education, social programs and  infra-structure costs our citizens are having to shoulder through ever-increasing property taxes. 

We are pleased that the City of Ottawa, City of Quinte West, and the Township of Hamilton share these concerns and have supported the recommendations to the MNR.

People who wish to learn more about these issues so that they may decide the case for themselves, can visit www.wildlifeontario.ca to review the material submitted to local councils.

Donna DuBreuil, President
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre
Member of the Ontario Wildlife Coalition