A call to arms, or an editorial writer goes to the dogs

Laws calling for the vaccination of dogs in North Carolina were first enacted in 1935.

By Jim Buchanan

Editorial page writers are, in general, fairly staid individuals, weighing the merits of a case and attempting to lay out a persuasive argument either for or against it.

But editorial page writers are human and sometimes there have been issues that just pushed their buttons and sent them over the edge. A textbook example can be found in the pages of the Jackson County Journal from this month in 1935.

North Carolina had just passed a law requiring dogs be vaccinated, and the writer was having none of it. From April 11, 1935:

 

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We are just sitting and waiting to see the fun start, if and when the officers begin trying to enforce the law recently enacted by our all-wise General Assembly, requiring all dogs be vaccinated for rabies.

But, the enforcement of the law – and it is now law – is squarely up to the sheriffs of the counties, their deputies, and other police officers. Sheriffs have to run for reelection, about every two years, and it will really be fun to see them chasing about over their respective counties, trying to catch the children’s pets, milady’s poodles, the huntsman’s prize setters and pointers, the fox-hunters’ and bear-hunters hounds, the squirrel dogs, the groundhog dogs, the sheep and cattle dog, the plain mutts, the mongrels and the feists, and trying to have a dog doctor vaccinate them. The law is that Fido, Bruno, Shep, Fifi, Lead, Old King and Nero must all be given a shot, at so much per shot cost to owners, each and every, or he must be beheaded, chloroformed, shot at sunrise, electrocuted, gassed or otherwise executed under the laws of North Carolina.

The truth is that no serum for this purpose has yet been perfected, and that nobody can be sure whether the injection will do good or harm. Rabies is so rare in North Carolina…

We probably shall see no such fun, for it will be considered just another law, and allowed to go at that. Sheriffs who enforce it, and legislators who voted for it would have a sweet time trying to be reelected, if a serious effort of enforcement should be made.

You can make a man’s children be vaccinated, tell him that he must send them to school, tell him when and how long, or if his wife and children can work, regulate his crops, his income, his spending and his mule, his cattle, his sheep, his hogs, and even his cats, but if you value your political head, you had better let his dog alone. Dynasties, governments and great politicians have by reason of lesser infringement on the liberties of man.

 

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There’s a saying that if you’re going to be wrong, you may as well be spectacularly wrong, and this particular article checked quite a few boxes in that regard.

The vaccination bill didn’t cost any politicians their jobs.

The rabies vaccination for dogs was in fact very effective.

The Journal editorial was packed with misconceptions about rabies, but misconceptions about rabies are as old as time. A Roman scholar in the first century successfully figured out rabies was transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. He didn’t figure out a successful treatment, positing that the bite victim could be cured by being held under water. In essence if you didn’t die of drowning, you’d survive to die of rabies.

With successful vaccination programs, the instances of rabid dogs has dropped dramatically. In 2018 the Centers for Disease Control reported 4,951 cases in animals and three in humans. Of those numbers, only 63 were rabid dogs, with three being reported in North Carolina.

In 2018, there were also 241 cases of rabid cats and 13 each of rabid horses and donkeys.

Finally, the Journal was off on the instances of rabid dogs in the 1930s. Rabies wasn’t a rare thing in those days. It was a pandemic rolling across the South from the 1930s on up until the 1950s.

The last person in this state to die from the bite of an infected dog was a Cherokee County woman in 1955.

Turns out the vaccine worked.