Letters to the Editor: Wildlife laws not truly equal for all

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While everyone is supposed to be equal under the law, it doesn’t always seem to play out that way. Some exceptions are more unfair than others, and in honor of a kitten that was recently euthanized, I wish to shine a light on the arbitrary application of laws that concern our wildlife. 
There are certain species of animals; raccoons, skunks, and bats among them, who are known as rabies vector species, meaning that they have a higher risk for rabies. If these animals come into contact with human beings, they are killed to be tested for rabies. The rabies virus is transmitted via blood or bodily fluids such as saliva. Testing for rabies can only be done posthumously through testing the spinal fluid. I don’t dispute this law — rabies is a serious public health concern and a fatal disease. Humans who are exposed to the blood or saliva of a rabies-vector species need to be protected. Protection can also come from post-exposure vaccination.
Some of these same species may be hunted and trapped, either during legal hunting seasons or year-round as nuisance animals by individuals who do not even hold a trapping license. In disposing of their bodies, hunters and trappers may well be exposed to blood and other body fluids but the law does not intervene to require either testing of the dead animals or post-exposure rabies vaccines for the hunters and trappers. 
Recently, a kitten wandered into a yard of an Addison County resident and rubbed up against a child’s leg. It was a small brownish kitten with blue eyes. The child’s dad picked up the kitten and was bitten. He brought the kitten to Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society, where the staff promptly recognized that it was not a domestic kitten but rather an infant bobcat kitten. Bobcats are not a rabies vector species. Within the hour, the kitten was delivered to a licensed rehabilitator and all the proper authorities were notified of the bite.
After 24 hours of deliberation, the law decreed that the man needed to receive post-exposure vaccines or the kitten needed to be killed and tested. Wildlife protection groups offered to cover the cost of the vaccines but ultimately the man who was bitten declined the vaccine and the kitten was euthanized. 
I do not fault this man’s choice; rabies is a fatal disease and he was a father with as many reasons to want to live as any of us. As many reasons as the kitten may have had. 
The fault I find is with laws and policies that treat situations involving wildlife unequally. If the real concern is containing rabies, then why does the law not require, at the very least, that every person who seeks a hunting or trapping license show proof of being rabies vaccinated? Why does the law come down in a case of a good Samaritan where the likelihood of rabies transmission — a bite by an infant kitten of a non-rabies vector species — is minute when it regularly looks away from very real exposure that trappers face when handling trapped raccoons and other rabies-vector species?
I don’t know, but the seemingly arbitrary way in which the law is applied suggests that it is heavily swayed in favor of those few Vermonters who believe wildlife is theirs for the taking. I don’t happen to be one of them and I submit this letter so that others who agree with me may find voice to also speak out and demand equal application of the law.
Jessica Danyow
Editor’s note: The writer is executive director of Homeward Bound, but she is writing this as a private citizen and her views are her own and not necessarily those of the humane society.

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