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The co-owner of a local dog rescue organization and no-kill shelter has received approval from the county’s health director to become a certified rabies vaccinator.
Max Fitz-Gerald of For the Love of Dogs went before the Wilson County Board of Health last week to plead his case for the appointment, which is under the discretion of the county’s health director, Teresa Ellen.
On Monday, Ellen sent Fitz-Gerald a letter approving his request after “very careful consideration,” the letter stated.
“In the interest of being a good community partner and to do what is right for the animals you rescue and your volunteers, I am going to grant you CRV (certified rabies vaccinator) status,” the letter continues.
Fitz-Gerald said Wednesday he was “very appreciative” to Ellen and he would be thanking her personally for her decision.
“It feels good to be on the winning side,” Fitz-Gerald said. “It uplifts my spirit. I’m just very thankful that I can protect the people who come onto our property, the animals that we have and the animals that we take in.”
STIPULATIONS IN PLACE
Fitz-Gerald has said that he and his wife, Della, along with FLOD volunteers, are at a higher risk of being bitten by dogs they rescue. Those dogs often don’t have proof of being vaccinated for rabies, he has said.
Fitz-Gerald currently has 119 dogs at the facility. The dogs he takes in are either abandoned, found or surrendered by owners who can no longer take care of them.
Ellen did stipulate certain requirements for Fitz-Gerald’s designation, which is also in her discretion because county health directors oversee rabies vaccine administration and record-keeping.
Requirements for Fitz-Gerald include state training, certification in writing and that he is only allowed to vaccinate dogs for rabies that are rescued to his facility.
Fitz-Gerald must also keep accurate records that list the dogs’ names as well as a good description of each animal, according to the letter.
“In addition, as required by the state, you must submit a copy of your records monthly to the Wilson County Animal Enforcement program,” Ellen stated in the letter.
At any point, if Fitz-Gerald fails to meet those stipulations, Ellen has the authority to rescind his appointment as a certified rabies vaccinator.
The veterinarian on the health board, which is currently Dr. Maria Glennon, and Ellen will make quarterly visits to his facility to ensure Fitz-Gerald is following proper policy and procedures.
‘A GOOD-WORKING RELATIONSHIP’
Through the years, Fitz-Gerald has asked three different health directors for the appointment, all of whom denied his request. Ellen denied Fitz-Gerald’s request in 2014. But at the time, Fitz-Gerald had a veterinarian on site at his facility once a week and she felt that the veterinarian could vaccinate for rabies at FLOD, according to the letter. Ellen said she understands that Fitz-Gerald no longer as an on-site veterinarian but has to take the animals to a veterinary clinic Stantonsburg, according to the letter.
Ellen said any vaccination administered by Fitz-Gerald is good for a one-year duration and requires 28 days to become effective, according to her letter. She also said regardless of vaccination status, if an animal should bite someone, Fitz-Gerald must follow all the proper quarantine protocols.
Ellen stated the best protection for Fitz-Gerald and his volunteers is to receive the “pre-exposure rabies vaccine,” according to the letter.
“I want you know that I have the (utmost) respect for the work that you and Della do at For the Love of Dogs,” Ellen said. “I am confident that this will be a good working relationship.”
Fitz-Gerald said he was also grateful to those who attended the board of health meeting last week in support of his request, including his attorney, Will Farris of Farris & Farris and Wilson County resident Dewey Sheffield. He said he was also excited for Ellen to come to his facility and see who For the Love of Dogs is.
“I’m very, very happy,” Fitz-Gerald said. “I’m not trying to get around anything. I simply need and want to protect the people and animals that are in our care. I think I have a responsibility and a right to do that.”
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
There are currently 13 licensed veterinarians in Wilson County who administer rabies vaccinations, and three additional licensed rabies vaccinators employed at the sheriff’s office Animal Enforcement Center, according to officials.
According to state law, rabies vaccinations can be given by a licensed veterinarian, a registered veterinary technician who is under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian or a certified rabies vaccinator.
To become a certified rabies vaccinator, the local health director has to appoint the person, who like Fitz-Gerald is required to receive at least four hours of training from the state public health veterinarian and receive a written certification showing the person is able to administer rabies vaccinations.
The health director also has the option to terminate a vaccinator’s appointment at any time, according to North Carolina statutes. Health officials have said the law’s intent is to provide public health protection in rural areas where there are not enough veterinarians to provide the service.