The 2004 hunting season opens across much of France Sunday, but for enthusiasts in southwestern France this year will be different: hunters will be barred from using dogs because of last month’s rabies outbreak in the region.
Some 100,000 hunters in the departments of Dordogne, Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne have been ordered to leave their dogs at home or face a fine as authorities seek to prevent the pets becoming carriers of the disease.
Confinement to home was not the worst fate the animals faced this weekend, however.
There were tearful scenes at the dog-pound at Merignac, near Bordeaux, Saturday as owners attempted to retrieve their dogs who had strayed into roads or fields and who, now considered at risk from rabies, will be put down if their owners cannot prove they have been vaccinated.
“I’ve come to see my dog one last time before they put him to death,” sobbed Sandrine, whose setter escaped on Thursday as she was preparing to go out in her car.
“The police caught him a few minutes later and phoned me to say I could come and fetch him. But by the time I got there he had already been taken to the pound.”
Officials were adamant: not having been vaccinated against rabies, the 14-year-old setter will be given a lethal injection on Monday. Sandrine was resigned to these few minutes being the last she will spend with her pet.
Veterinarians in southwestern France have been inundated with requests for vaccinations from dog-owners since a dog in the region was found carrying the deadly disease.
“We are vaccinating between 70 and 100 dogs a day,” a vet in Perigueux said. Most local vets have waiting lists of up to three weeks.
The European Commission last month issued an EU-wide rabies alert, warning all European Union (EU) governments to ensure that holidaymakers who have recently returned from the region were aware of the case, in particular visitors to a number of local festivals.
Some pet-owners at Merignac were still uncertain of their pet’s fate, with everything depending on timing.
Patricia, whose dog escaped from her garden on September 3, said the dog-catchers had recovered him before the ministerial decree on confinement came into force, and had been able to recover her pet.
Severine, by contrast, had few illusions. Her dog, unvaccinated and lacking any means of identification, escaped last Wednesday. “I know that he’s been here since Thursday. I’m waiting for a call from the vets to find out what’s going to happen to him.” She continues to wait in hope rather than expectation.0