Dog tests positive for rabies near Columbiana

Published 3:16 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013


COLUMBIANA — A dog, located near County Road 61 in Columbiana, about three miles due west of the 4-H Center, has tested positive for the variety of rabies typically found in raccoons.

The owner of the dog noticed it acting strangely and took it to an area veterinarian, said Dana Johnson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Services at Auburn University. The veterinarian said the dog needed to be tested for rabies, and it was sent to a diagnostic lab in Montgomery, which confirmed it had the virus.

Johnson said it was then sent to the Centers for Disease Control to determine the type of virus the dog was carrying. That test confirmed the raccoon variant of the virus.

“There is a raccoon variant and a bat variant. The raccoon variant is found in known as terrestrial rabies, meaning it’s found in animals walking around on the ground,” he said.

The raccoon variant found on this side of the Coosa River is “extremely rare,” Johnson said.

He said the Alabama Coosa River System serves as a natural barrier, keeping rabies from expanding west of the Coosa River in Alabama. The last confirmed case of raccoon variant rabies found west of the Coosa River in Alabama was found in Calera in 2007.

Figuring out how the virus crossed the river is “the hard part,” Johnson said. “Most of the time, when something like this happens, meaning you have an isolated case that pops up, it’s because someone has relocated an animal.”

Johnson stressed not all raccoons are infected with the rabies virus. He said his agency is in the area, monitoring the spread of this virus by testing deceased wild animals, which have not had human or pet contact, including raccoons, skunks, coyotes and foxes.

Wildlife Services is also picking up “strange acting” wild mammals, and capturing raccoons using cage traps.

“We ask that if you encounter a strange acting animal or observe one that may have died with no visible trauma, please call our office to report it so we may retrieve it and take it to our laboratory for testing,” Johnson said.

“Also, if you have areas on your property upon which we can set cage traps to collect raccoons for rabies testing, it would be greatly appreciated.”

To discuss trapping possibilities, Johnson can be reached at 334-844-5670.

Seeing a raccoon in the middle of the day is not strange, Johnson said. “That just means it’s acclimated to the area.  Seeing a raccoon at 2 in the afternoon eating out of a trash can is not strange acting. That just means they are hungry and they are used to the area.

“Strange acting is falling over, waddling or looking ‘drunk.’ Excessive salivation or heavy foaming from the mouth would be strange.  Loss of all fear of humans or animals would be strange. Extreme aggression, meaning you see a raccoon trying to fight a tree, would be strange,” Johnson said.

He warned that residents should not try to trap or relocate any animal.

“A person, unless they are licensed, cannot go and trap an animal and relocate it. That’s against the law in Alabama,” Johnson said. “In fact, the state doesn’t allow for the relocation of any animals.”

He said anyone who has a pet they think is acting strange should take the pet to its veterinarian.

“We do not mess with domestic animals. Your vet will determine any problems with your animal,” Johnson said.

For more information on the National Rabies Management Program, please go to

Or, contact Johnson at 334-844-5670.