In Washington, state law (more precisely, Washington Administrative Code 246-100-197) requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies and revaccinated following veterinary and vaccine manufacturer instructions.

Last week, I heard a person in the grocery line railing on to all within earshot that COVID-19 is not bad at all and how masks and vaccinations cost too much money, “…pushed out there by a bunch of scaredy-cats with no common sense.”

What is that catch-all referred to as “common sense?”

The summarized Washington rabies data from 1988 to 2018 reveals that for 20 years, there have been no dogs or ferrets with confirmed rabies and only two cats contracted it. After all, cats retrieve bats on occasion.

During the same period, there were, however, about 513 bats confirmed to have rabies. Bats remain the Evergreen State’s wild animal reservoir. Know, too, no one tested every bat in the state or even a statistically significant sample representing the whole state.

Looking at this issue with so-called common sense, one might think there is no need for the rabies mandate or an expensive testing program. Some would say, “Well, there hasn’t been a case of rabies in this country since anyone can remember. I’m not about to waste time vaccinating all my animals, I’ve got to make a living.”

By extension, some will even go so far as to say, laws like this infringe on their liberty to not vaccinate my animals. Who the hell do those Department of Health people think they are?

Others will say vaccinations are part of a plot by veterinarians and drug companies to make money off working people. Some will say experts can’t predict how many cases of rabies they expect to have in this state next year and stick to their number.

Still others will say they looked it up. Bats are the ones that have it, not our animals. So they will say lawmakers are just a bunch of government employees trying to cover their butts and keep their expensive jobs that we pay for.

It’s common to hear someone disparaging medical or scientific diagnoses, prognoses, studies, forecasts and predictions as “wrong” after the fact, with no consideration for essential context.

Most importantly, that judgment is most often leveled by the person who remains confident their “common sense,” proved better than the difficult work of ongoing, educated studies of complex issues.

Last time I checked, my hindsight was always 20-20, too.

But if one is exposed to rabies by a bat the cat drug home and you become infected and develop symptoms, rabies remains almost 100 percent fatal in humans. That’s a good enough reason for vaccination for me.

Consider a cancer diagnosis in you or your pet. “How long do they have, doctor,” remains the famous dramatic line that moves an audience from Act II to Act III, where the tissues come out and the story is resolved.

But, unlike representations in medical dramas, few scientists or medical professionals can give one a specific, direct answer for such a question. And most people dislike hearing, “it depends,” even though “it depends” is the correct answer.

Most times, this is followed up with a time range which, except for the lowest number, goes unheard.

And even though that “it depends” phrase is correct, they delight in later saying, “The doctor said 3 months. She didn’t know what she was talking about, the pooch lived another year before we had to put him down.”

Why not simply delight in knowing you had your dog for another year?

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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