HARPSWELL — Harpswell is holding its annual rabies vaccination clinic for dogs and cats this weekend, and that may be good news for pet owners following another year of rabid animal attacks in the southern Midcoast.

The clinic is set for 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the town office. Anyone is welcome to bring their dog or cat to be vaccinated by volunteers from the Midcoast Humane Society for $10. Microchip ID insertion is also available for $25.

Throughout the year, numerous people in the Midcoast were chased or attacked by rabid foxes in their neighborhoods and yards. While Harpswell hasn’t seen any confirmed cases of rabid animals, nearby Brunswick saw three confirmed cases and Bath had 16 this year, the most in the state, according to a Dec. 20 report from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Statewide, 88 wild animals have tested positive for rabies this year. There have been other encounters with animals presumed to have rabies, but the animals weren’t tested because no one was bitten.

In 2018, the state reported nine instances of rabies in Brunswick between June and November, more than any other municipality in the state.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. It is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. Vaccines are 100 percent effective in combating the disease in humans. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.

“Rabies is a disease only in mammals and humans are mammals … if your animal becomes infected they can bite you and infect you,” said Ray Schlotterbeck, an animal control officer for Lisbon. That town saw one case of rabies in 2019 and three in 2018.

Schlotterbeck said once an animal begins showing symptoms of rabies, it’s too late to administer treatment for the disease and the animal will die.

Given the high number of rabies cases the Midcoast has seen this year, Schlotterbeck said, “That area should be doing everything they can to prevent the spread of rabies.”

Earlier this month, Bath held an informational rabies meeting at which residents could express their concerns and question health and wildlife experts. At the meeting, Rachel Keefe, an epidemiologist from the Maine CDC, said one of the best defenses against rabid animals is to vaccinate pets.

At Bath’s public rabies forum, state health officials said there’s no way to vaccinate wild animals in a singular town because of the way animals repopulate and migrate.

“We’d love to have an answer to explain why Sagadahoc County has seen a record amount of (rabies) cases, but we can’t explain that,” said Michelle Walsh, a state veterinarian. “It’s probably due to a number of factors.”

Walsh said animal populations naturally fluctuate based on the weather and food sources, and the spread of rabies will slow naturally as the temperature drops and animals become less active.

While Harpwell’s rabies clinic is an annual event that coincides with the dog license deadline at the end of the month, which requires a dog to receive the rabies vaccination to be licensed, Harpswell’s town clerk, Rosalind Knight, said she anticipates a high turnout because of the increased number of rabid animals in the Midcoast.

“I feel it’s a good service to people … We always hope to have a high turnout,” said Knight.

State officials have asked residents to report any animal acting strangely to police immediately. Rabid animals typically approach humans without fear, are unsteady on their feet and drool excessively. A rabid animal will die within 10 days of contracting the virus, according to Keefe.

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