Owning Rabies Medically Exempt Pets


When we decided to bring Mikey home with us we made a life long commitment to that puppy. It was a vow to love him and provide the best of care for him throughout his entire life no matter what unforeseen problems or tragedies came our way. We don’t believe pets are disposable so in our minds this commitment is really no different than that of adoptive parents when they decide to adopt a human child.

Florida law requires that the rabies vaccine be administered to dogs but the state statutes also allow medical exemptions for sick dogs that cannot be safely vaccinated. When pet owners decide to do what is best for their pets by accepting a letter of medical exemption we take on a very serious responsibility, the overwhelming responsibility to protect our sick from the consequences of our actions and the actions of others. Allowing an exempt dog to have contact with a friend, a stranger, a neighbor or even the neighbor’s dog presents the potential for a bite claim, potential quarantine or potential euthanasia, decapitation and rabies testing.

The owners of medically exempt pets have a responsibility to keep them in an environment where they are protected FROM the public and to not let them roam. Additional responsibilities include knowing what the early signs of many common illnesses are and being prepared to treat the condition quickly. It means being willing to drive for hours to a dedicated vet who truly cares about the well being of animals when there are many other vets just minutes away from your home who refuse treatment due to the pets’ unvaccinated status. It means forfeiting vacations because it is not safe to travel with an unvaccinated pet due to the variation of laws from state to state or even county to county. It means not being able to seek safety from catastrophic storms in a pet friendly hurricane shelter. It means being afraid to call the police when you hear noises outside at night because it might actually be the"not so friendly" or "creepy" neighbor guy out there and if your actions anger them they might seek revenge in the form of a false bite / scratch incident. It means not even being able to take the dog for walk around the block.

I'd love to take my dog to the dog park so he can run and play with other dogs but I don't. Why? Because I know doing so could expose him to diseases and I know there is the very real possibility of an accidental injury while playing. At a dog park, the chances of someone getting scratched or a dog getting nipped is very real and then my dog would have his vaccination status scrutinized, questioned and challenged. Innocent play with other dogs could literally cost him his life.

I now know that it is also my job to protect him from the serious and potentially fatal dangers that vaccines can inflict on his damaged body. I must protect him from other animals both domestic and wild but most importantly I feel that I must protect him from the humans who are ignorant about how the rabies virus is transmitted as well as the laws, the lawmakers and the law enforcement officials that have not only neglected to protect him, they actually threaten him. I must make every possible effort to protect him from a potential and very likely death sentence simply because he is sick and cannot be safely vaccinated.

I understand that if I choose to ignore the recommendations of our veterinarian and I decide to vaccinate my dog doing so could have severe and possible fatal consequences. I also understand that if I choose to accept the medical exemption that our veterinarian has provided doing so could result in severe and possible fatal consequences in the event of even an accidental bite / scratch incident. Now I understand that no matter how much we pay the veterinarians and no matter which legal option we choose there is a very real possibility that Mikey could die because our lawmakers have failed to make adequate provisions for sick and elderly pets.

Although it is a devastating thought there is one other way to deal with this dilemma. Perhaps immediate euthanasia would be the most compassionate thing to do. I would have to decide if I could forever live with the pain and intense guilt that would result from my actions but I suppose it would be better to know that my beloved pet died in the comfort of my arms rather than scared, confused and alone in a strange place in the presence of uncaring strangers who have no love or compassion for my precious companion and family member. I’m not being dramatic I am being realistic.

As the owner of a medically exempt dog these are the options I have been given under the current Florida laws. These are the options I and many other responsible pet owners are given while many residential neighborhoods are overwhelmed with unwanted, potentially rabid feral cats that the local officials do absolutely nothing to control. Due to noncompliance there always has been and always will be unvaccinated dogs among us but they, unlike cats, rarely represent confirmed cases in the rabies statistics so why are medically exempt dogs considered to be such a tremendous threat to the community?

Please tell me how a letter of medical exemption protects pets and their owners under the current inadequate laws. I fail to see where these legal documents provide any protection.

Sadly, the people who have the most to fight for, those who are nurturing their beloved pets back to health, usually cannot fight to change the current laws. They are too afraid of overzealous and clearly under-educated Animal Control officers. They are afraid of jeopardizing their sick pets. Most pet owners have no idea what it is like to be in that position until it happens to them.

These are very responsible pet owners, they don't deserve to be treated this way and forced to live in fear.